Teddy Roosevelt’s Kids Saved Christmas As We Know It

By Shannon Quinn

During Theodore Roosevelt’s time as President of the United States, he made a lot of progress in land conservation and the founding of US National Parks. However, he almost made the mistake of banning Christmas trees from American tradition. If it were not for the help of his children, our holiday traditions may have turned out very differently today.

Grover Cleveland and his wife decorated The Second Floor Oval Room with a small tree and tons of presents for their daughter to discover on Christmas morning. Credit: WhiteHouseHistory.org

In The 1800’s, Christmas Trees Became An American Tradition

The tradition of decorating Christmas trees during the holidays originally began as a German tradition, and it spread to other parts of Europe. Queen Victoria popularized the tradition of Christmas trees in the British royal family. Some of the greatest holiday stories like Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, which came out during the Victorian Era when everyone was feeling so festive and happy about the holiday.

However, it did not catch on in the United States until the mid-to-late 1800’s. The very first Christmas tree to be set up inside of the White House came from the 14th President of the United States, Franklin Pierce in 1856. The tradition was not carried on every single year, because in the 1800’s, many people disapproved of using Christmas trees. They considered them to be a pagan symbol, and since the holiday was supposed to be about the birth of Jesus Christ, so many conservative Christian people did not think that this was an appropriate way to celebrate the holiday.

Despite this criticism, the tradition eventually became more popular as the years went on. Most people did not put up a Christmas tree unless they had children, since it was seen as something for young kids to stare at while they opened their presents from Santa. Grover Cleveland became the first President to hang electric lights on a Christmas tree in 1895. In photographs, we can see how beautifully the Cleveland family decorated the second floor Oval Room with dolls for their daughter to find from Santa on Christmas morning.

The very first Christmas tree farm started in the United States in the year 1901. Over 25,000 Norway Spruce trees were planted at a farm in Trenton, New Jersey. But it takes years for trees to grow. In four years, a Christmas tree is only one foot tall, so they could not begin selling trees until the year 1980. One farm could not supply trees to the entire country, anyway, so it would take decades before Christmas tree farms were all over the country. Up until the 1930s and 40’s, the majority of people still went into the forest to find a pine, spruce, or or fir tree, cut it down, and take it home with them. Artificial Christmas trees did not begin to boom until the 1950’s.