Discover more from East Wing Magazine
Jill Biden Welcomes Official White House Christmas Tree
Military families join the first lady for the annual holiday tradition.
First Lady Dr. Jill Biden ushered in the holiday season Monday as the official White House Christmas tree was brought in by horse-drawn carriage.
To a live rendition of “O Christmas Tree” by the military band, Jill Biden, alongside military children and families as part of the First Lady’s Joining Forces initiative, exited the White House and welcomed the carriage. Biden, dressed in a green overcoat and matching dress and heels, approached the carriage while some of the children pet the horses. Biden inspected the tree’s branches while telling the children, “I know it’s huge” and “can you smell it.”
"It was so nice of them to join us today, all the children,” Biden says. “And the tree, which is magnificent, is from the Cline Church Nursery. And some of the kids said that they had never seen a tree so big. So I hope you'll all come back during the holidays with your families and join us and come see the tree when it's decorated. So thank you for being here. Happy holidays."
The centerpiece of this holiday season is an 18 ½ foot Fraser Fir from Fleetwood, North Carolina, which will stand floor to ceiling, filling the Blue Room of the White House. Every year, according to the White House, the room’s chandelier is removed to accommodate the tree’s full height. This year’s tree was presented to the first lady by siblings Amber Scott and Alex Church, of Cline Church Nursery, the 2023 Grand Champion Grower in the National Christmas Tree Association’s annual contest.
The tree came in on a green wagon with “White House Christmas Tree” in red lettering and “2023” in green. Two wreaths with red bows adorned either side of the sign. Pulling the carriage were two brown-and-white Clydesdale horses, “Winston” and “Ben,” according to the Office of the First Lady. Christmas tree ornaments and green and white ribbons braided into the horses’ manes were connected to adornments in their bridles. Jingle bells and a four leaf clover ornament connected to the black and silver bridles. Two coachmen in top hats and black tuxedos held the reins.
The first known Christmas tree in the White House was placed upstairs in the Second Floor Oval Room (then used as a family parlor and library) in 1889 during the Benjamin Harrison administration, according to the White House Historical Association. It was decorated with candles for the Harrison grandchildren.
By 1912, the children of President William Howard Taft and First Lady Helen Taft — Robert, Helen, and Charles — placed the first tree in the Blue Room on the State Floor in 1912. The president and first lady were away on a trip to Panama, so the tree was a surprise for the family’s cousins, who with their parents, were guests at the White House.
Since then, the custom of placing a tree or multiple trees on the State Floor was sporadically performed by successive first families, according to the WHHA. Some families placed a small tree in the Blue Room; many others preferred a large tree or trees in the East Room, where most of the seasonal activities took place.
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy continued this tradition and in 1961 selected a theme for the annual Blue Room Christmas tree. That year, the tree was decorated with objects depicting characters and toys from the "Nutcracker Suite" ballet, according to the WHHA. This tradition of a themed Blue Room Christmas tree has continued ever since as has the annual National Christmas Tree Association competition that dates back to 1966.
The military families that took part in the ceremony included:
The Costick Family, U.S. Coast Guard: Yeoman First Class Joseph Costick and his wife Elise. They are joined by their three children: Joseph Costick III, Lucas, and Mackenzie.
The Heck Family, U.S. Air Force Reserves: retired Colonel John Heck and his wife Amse. They are joined by their three children: Elvira, Caroline, and Henry.
The Pierre Family, U.S. Army: The Pierre family is represented by Shannon Pierre, the surviving wife of Sergeant Alex Pierre. She is joined by their two children: DaReese Pierre and Kyleo Pettit.
The Rotenberry Family, U.S. Marine Corps: retired Sergeant Chuck Rotenberry and his wife and caregiver, Elizabeth. They are joined by their four Hidden Helper children: Kristopher, Anna, Sara, and Charlie.
The Velez Family, U.S. Space Force: Master Sergeant Robert Velez and his wife Sally. They are joined by their two children: Leo and George.
White House pool reporter Gillian Brassil contributed to this report.
East Wing Magazine is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.