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Christmas with the First Ladies: The Sweetest Traditions

Weekend Program

Sunday, December 3, 2017 - 2:00 p.m.
Code: 1W0014

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The White House decorated for the holidays (White House)

No home in America celebrates the holidays quite like the White House, and behind each annual celebration is a first lady who lends her own distinctive style to the festivities. Coleen Christian Burke, a professional decorator who was a 2014 White House design partner, surveys the signature holiday decorating approaches of modern residents from Jackie Kennedy to Michelle Obama.

Drawing from her own experience and her book Christmas with the First Ladies, Christian Burke reveals how White House decorating themes are developed, how the White House functions during the holidays as both a private home and public space, and offers views of some of the most memorable holiday settings created at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Delicious treats add to the holiday atmosphere.

2–3:30 p.m.  First-Lady Style and Holiday Cards

Each seasonal decorating theme at the White House is influenced by the first lady’s personality, her causes and interests, and by the events of the day. Learn how Jackie Kennedy introduced the White House Christmas theme, Pat Nixon made the holidays accessible to all, and Laura Bush featured causes close to her heart. Holiday cards from the first family are also highlighted.

3:30–3:50 p.m.  The Sweetest Tradition

Trace the evolution of White House’s annual gingerbread house from a modest A-frame to the impressively scaled structure it is today.

3:50–4:15 p.m.  How It’s Done

Based on her experience in 2014, Christian Burke offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the months of planning that led to the sparkling holiday decorations created around the theme “A Children’s Winter Wonderland.” Follow the planning and implementation of the project—which included 57 trees, multiple 20-foot arches, and a specially designed floor treatment in the State Dining Room—and learn how even the smallest details are planned to provide the greatest impact. 

4:15–5 p.m.  Ornament-Crafting Traditions

Crafts have often played a significant role in the seasonal décor at the White House. See samples of hand-made ornaments including Lady Bird Johnson's wild flower ornaments, Rosalynn Carter's birthday-hat ornaments and Michelle Obama's gingerbread people. Then create your own handcrafted ornament inspired by Jackie Kennedy's miniature presents.


S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)