WASHINGTON, November 22, 2013 — Did you get your White House Christmas card yet? No? Neither did I. Guess we weren’t on that select list of 1.4 million Americans who did. Oh well, there is always next year.
However, unless you are a big donor, a mega campaign worker or FOP (Friend of the President), it’s doubtful you will be getting one next year either.
Actually the whole tradition of an American Christmas, much less Christmas cards, doesn’t date back to George Washington, although our First President and Martha did celebrate Christmas at Mt. Vernon. In fact, he made sure to rent a camel every year to entertain his children and thrill his friends with yet another “exotic” animal, a fascination of his. No sign of a manager, however. Just a camel.
Christmas As A National Holiday
Christmas as a national holiday didn’t even start until President Ulysses S. Grant made it a national holiday in 1870. But no president was sending out official Christmas or holiday greetings until President Dwight Eisenhower started the tradition in 1953, a mere 59 years ago.
True there were Christmas cards privately sent out by earlier presidents, and even Queen Victoria had an official Christmas card way back in the 1840s, but no such folderol for us until Ike.
Of course anyone lucky enough to get a Christmas card from the President, official or not, holds onto it as a keepsake and then as a valuable collectible to hand down through the family. It may even show up one day on the Antiques Roadshow and help pay for someone’s college education.
White House Christmas cards are sort of common nowadays so this year’s greeting card won’t be worth as much. During the Kennedy years, only 2,000 were mailed out so they are very desirable. The one that is exceedingly rare is the one that never made it to the post office in 1963. President John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy had posed for a Christmas photo on the White House stairs for that year’s card, but his assassination on November 22, 1963, meant there was no White House Christmas card that year.
First Dog Is Featured
This year’s card features the adorable Bo, the Obama’s First Dog, frolicking in the snow, a jaunty scarf about his neck. Larassa Kabel painted the picture that became this year’s card, rendering it from a photo of Bo. She added the scarf for pizazz.
Those who fret, along with Fox News resident curmudgeon, Bill O’Reilly, that there is a war on Christmas will be dismayed that there is only a holiday greeting and no Merry Christmas: “This season, may your home be filled with family, friends, and the joy of the holidays.”
And what will Sarah Palin, former GOP vice-presidential candidate, think of this year’s card? Last year, she was a bit peeved with the White House card, which also featured Bo, this time in front of a warm fire, surrounded by Christmas decorations.
“It’s odd,” Palin had said, questioning why the card highlighted President Obama’s dog instead of traditions like “family, faith and freedom.”
That makes you wonder what she would have thought about the 2005 card President George W. and Laura Bush sent out, featuring their Scottie terriers, Barney and Miss Beazley, cavorting in the snow outside the White House and painted by famous artist Jamie Wyeth.
And what did the greeting inside say? Heresy of all heresies: “With best wishes for a holiday season of hope and happiness 2005.” Not one Merry Christmas wish.
Depression and Wartime Cards
Some of the personal presidential Christmas cards from early in the Twentieth Century lacked such joie de vivre. President Calvin Coolidge, never known for being a firecracker, had given us the first National Christmas tree, promoting a Vermont fir from his home state.
hen the Coolidges began sending out their own Christmas cards in 1927 in response to the number of cards, both Christmas and condolences, that they received from across the nation after the death of their youngest son from blood poisoning.
President Hoover’s cards were dull also, but the country was now diving into a deep Depression so maybe a holly, jolly card would have been out of place.
President Franline Roosevelt in 1941 sent a subdued card, but then it was only weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and America heading into WWII. By the following year, he and Eleanor sent out one showing them sitting on what looks likes the portico just outside the Oval Office and looking very staid.
It wasn’t until the Eisenhower and Kennedy years that the cards had some Christmas spirit. Maybe because they were now official cards of the White House.
President Nixon favored cards that reproduced historical pictures of the White House, such as N.C. Wyeth’s painting “Building the First House.” It showed George Washington standing next to the White House architect, James Hoban, with the White House still under construction behind them. N.C. Wyeth was the grandfather of Jamie Wyeth who crafted the Christmas card for the Bushes.
Presidents like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton also favored views of the White House exterior or of the decorated rooms, either from a commissioned painting or a photograph. But they have been pretty traditional looking. They didn’t even use their famous pets to humanize the White House.
So the photo of Bo romping across the snow on the White House grounds brings a smile and reminds us that a real family lives in the White House, not just the President of the United States.
Also read about the gingerbread White House at “A White House Good Enough To Eat.”
To contact Catherine Poe, see above. Her work appears in Ad Lib at the Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. She can also be heard on Democrats for America’s Future. She is also a contributor to broadcast, print and online media.
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