History Nuggets: President William Henry Harrison and the Holly and the Ivy

William Henry Harrison, (No. 9) was not in the White House long enough to enjoy a Christmas season, serving only one month before he died of pneumonia after making—in the snow—the longest U.S. presidential inauguration speech on record.

William Henry Harrison, was born at Berkeley Plantation in Virginia on February 9, 1773.  His father, Benjamin, was a member of the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The young Harrison grew up on the James River just 30 miles from Yorktown, where Cornwallis surrendered to Washington. William, the youngest of seven children, learned to rely on himself early in life. The Christmas season was celebrated on Virginia plantations by attending church services and decorating their homes with holly and ivy. William, no doubt, followed the colonial boy’s custom of “shooting in the Christmas,” which consisted of firing their guns into the air on Christmas Eve morning.  “Oh the holly and the ivy…”

Hear the ancient Christmas song “The Holly and the Ivy”.

The inspirational photo by Pixabay

History Nuggets: The skinny on John Q and where was Christmas?

John Quincy Adams (No.6) spent four Christmases in the White House and yet there is very little written about his Christmas celebrations, if indeed there were any.

President Adams was known to follow the same routine every day. He would arise early, swim nude in the Potomac, read several newspapers during breakfast and hold meetings. In the evening dinner was at 5 PM and then he would write in his diaries. He had been raised in Massachusetts where the Puritan distaste for Christmas celebrations may have affected his outlook and he would not have allowed Christmas day to interfere with this practice. However, First Lady Louisa Adams probably celebrated the Christmas holiday in a more prominent way for the children’s sake. There is no historical evidence of Christmas parties at the Adams White House, but Louisa was a very good hostess and may have sent invitations for Christmas dinner at the White House to further her husband’s political connections.  Bah, humbug…

Read from the personal diary of John Quincy Adams.

Inspirational photo by Pinterest

History Nuggets: John Q #6 and the Christmas Poinsettia

The popular Christmas Poinsettia was first introduced to the U.S. during John Quincy Adams’ presidency (#6) by Joel R. Poinsett, the first diplomatic minister to Mexico.

In 1825, President Adams appointed Joel R. Poinsett as the first diplomatic minister to Mexico. The diplomat, an amateur botanist, found a plant growing wild in the southern states of Mexico and sent back samples to the US. Perhaps they arrived at the White House during the Christmas season, because the “Poinsettia” has grown into a very popular seasonal decoration.

Inspirational photo by Pixabay

More on the Christmas Poinsettia 

History Nuggets: A dark 1862 Christmas in the Lincoln White House

When life becomes complicated…holidays and celebrations become difficult and thorny…for instance…Christmas during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

During these hard times, the Lincoln White House left no record of Christmas trees in the halls or parties, other than a family Christmas dinner in 1861 when they were all together.  President Lincoln served the people, met his presidential responsibilities…attended to the needs of war…he and his First Lady directed their energies…spending countless hours in the military hospitals administering to the wounded…writing letters for injured soldiers to send home to loved ones…such unselfish devotion to a divided nation left little time for holiday festivities.

Additional sorrow and mourning entered the White House when third son, Willie, died in February 1862.  Imagine…the White House doors and windows still shrouded in black, black arm bands…stark black attire during that Christmas combined with a civil war.  Lincoln told Tad, his youngest son, “I want to give him all the toys I did not have and all the toys that I would have given the boy that went away”.… referring to 11 year old Willie and his short sweet life.

War deeply influences our lives and our cultural legacy…look for the next History Nugget: “1863 Santa Claus drawn political and choosing sides”

Inspiring photo of William Wallace Lincoln by Pinterest

History Nuggets: An orphan boy who never heard of Santa Claus became President

“On Christmas Eve in 1835, President Andrew Jackson and the White House children embarked upon a carriage ride, delivering gifts to former First Lady Dolly Madison and Vice President Martin Van Buren.  During the ride one of the children asked the President if he thought Santa would visit the White House. Mr. Jackson replied that they would have to wait and see and told the children of a boy he once knew who had never heard of Christmas or Santa Claus and who had never owned a single toy. The boy, he told them, never knew his father and then his mother died.  After her death, he had no friends and no place to live. Jackson and the children then visited an orphanage and delivered the remaining gifts in the carriage to its residents. Years later, one of the children, Mary Donelson, realized that the boy the president spoke of had been Jackson himself.” Jackson was a complicated man who came from lonely and troubled beginnings…who grew to cherish Christmas and share the joy of light and hope.

Inspirational photo by Pexels.

History Nuggets: First Christmas Cards, First Christmas Party in the White House and a nose bitten off?!

The second President of the United States, John Adams, held the first ever White House Christmas party in honor of his granddaughter, Susanna. History could also say that Adams invitations sent for this party were the very first White House Christmas cards from the Peoples’ House.

First Lady Abigail Adams, planned a successful party complete with dinner, cakes and punch, with a  small orchestra that played festive music in a grand ballroom adorned with seasonal flora.  When one of the younger guests accidentally broke one of the First granddaughter’s new doll dishes, granddaughter Adams enraged, promptly bit the nose off of one of the offending friend’s dolls. An amused Adams stepped in to make sure the incident didn’t take an even uglier turn.  Seems a president’s job is never done.

Inspirational photo by Pinterest

History Nuggets: 1941 FDR and Winston share war and Christmas Eve dinner

As the United States celebrated Christmas for the first time as combatants in WWII (while still climbing out of the Great Depression), the dinner menu at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue  reflected the country’s wartime sacrifice. FDR and guest of honor Winston Churchill, after lighting the White House Christmas Tree, dined on clear soup, thin toast, turkey and dressing, and beans, and Christmas plum pudding. Imagine their conversation…

Source: Mental Floss

History Nuggets: FDR lights White House Christmas after declaring war

“President Franklin D. Roosevelt (standing) and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (right) speak from the south portico of the White House while lighting the official tree on Christmas Eve, 1941.”  Imagine the heavy hearts and trepidation for the world at this time.

Although the war began with Nazi Germany’s attack on Poland in September 1939, the United States did not enter the war until after the Japanese bombed the American fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.  The United States declared war against Japan the next day, December 8, 1941.

Inspirational photo by White House Archives


History Nuggets: 1929 Christmas Eve Fire in the White House

In 1929 a fire broke out on Christmas Eve in the White House during a party for staff and their children.   As flames licked the walls of West Wing offices, 130 firefighters arrived and extinguished the blaze. The next year, President Herbert Hoover sent toy fire trucks to some of his young guests.

The 2016  Official White House Christmas Ornament was a replica of the many “pumpers”that worked furiously from hydrants up to five blocks away from the White House to supply the water necessary to combat the flames.

Photo by the White House Historical Society

History Nuggets: 1889 First White House Christmas Tree

President Benjamin Harrison and his family introduced the first indoor White House Christmas tree in the upstairs oval room, the family’s private parlor.  The White House at this point lacked electrical power, so the family decorated their tree with candles…as many did.   The People’s House received electricity in 1891.

Benjamin Harrison, (1833 – 1901), 23rd President of the United States  and  the grandson of the ninth president, William Henry Harrison, created the only grandfather-grandson duo to hold the office.

What was happening in 1889?…Eiffel Tower opens, commemorates French Revolution…Dakotas, Montana and Washington admitted to the union…Bayer introduces aspirin in powder form (Germany).

Inspiring photo by Pinterest