A Kennedy Christmas

Before we had the Sussexes, the Kennedys were the closest thing Americans had to a royal family. Today, many will no doubt be watching part two of the limited Netflix series “Harry & Meghan,” but in the early 1960s it was “Jack and Jackie” that took over the airwaves and captivated the public imagination. The handsome couple were tailor-made for the age of television and represented the vanguard of a new era in American politics. 

The Kennedy's watch the America's Cup boat race.
Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy aboard the USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. watch the first race of the America’s Cup. Robert Knudsen 1962

While JFK’s charisma and youthful energy propelled him to the White House, it was actually Jacqueline who can be credited with creating the lasting legacy of the Kennedy brand. Her privileged upbringing bestowed her with a self-confidence that made her incredibly media savvy. Further, she brought the imprimatur of good taste and manners to the White House and into the homes of average Americans by way of news reports and television broadcasts. 

Now that Christmastide is only a few short sleeps away, let’s go back in time 60 years to briefly look at Christmas at the White House with the Kennedys. 

From December to December…Think Back on all the Tales that you Remember of Camelot

Photo by Abbie Rowe 1961

The Kennedys would only spend two Christmas seasons in the White House, but they certainly made the most of that time. In fact, it was Jackie who started the White House tradition of themed Christmas trees.


In 1961, the first year of the Kennedy White House, Jackie’s chosen theme was Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.” While the ballet had been written and first premiered in the late 19th century, it was not performed in the United States until the 1940s, after which it grew increasingly popular. 

JFK and Jaqueline Kennedy stand in front of the 1961 Nutcracker-themed White House Christmas tree.
JFK and Jackie Kennedy stand before the White House Christmas tree in the Blue Room. Robert Knudsen 1961

The 1961 Christmas tree certainly sets a standard for what a Christmas tree should look like. Beautiful blue velvet ribbons gracefully scallop across the boughs. The ornaments are varied and colorful, with lots of reds, golds, and whites contrasting with the green background. Most importantly, the ornaments are not too plentiful! There is a trend these days to overdecorate Christmas trees to the point where the actual tree becomes obscured and one wouldn’t even know if there is a tree underneath. Of course, Jackie has decorated with discernment and we can see she has put together a beautiful tree—picturesque, even. 

The 1961 White House Christmas Tree stands in the Blue Room prior to the renovations undertaken by Jackie Kennedy.
The White House Christmas tree in 1961. Notice the Moravian Star topper. Robert Knudsen 1961

The tree’s placement in the Blue Room gives it a striking appearance. Upon moving in, Jackie made it her mission to restore and renovate the White House to a grandeur befitting the residence of a major head of state. Yet, by Christmas 1961 the blue room had not yet been transformed and still retained the striking blue silk wallcovering left over from a previous reconstruction under President Harry Truman. The blue velvet ribbons on the tree coordinate splendidly with the blue surroundings of the room. 

One of my favorite photographs from this time is below. White House staff were invited to a Christmas reception, and several staff members and their families were photographed in front of the tree. Among them were White House doorman Preston Bruce and his family, one member of which wears a vivid royal blue skirt suit and periwinkle pillbox hat. The children are similarly dressed in light blues. Their outfits just compliment the tree and room so well! 

A White House staff member and his family stand before the 1961 White House Christmas tree during a reception held by the Kennedys.
White House doorman Preston Bruce and his family were among those attending the Christmas White House staff reception in 1961. Robert Knudsen.


In 1962, the White House Christmas tree was moved to the Entrance Hall and this time Jackie selected a “Children” theme. In fact, she actually reused the ornaments from the previous year’s “Nutcracker” theme. Very clever! 

JFK and Jackie pass by the 1962 White House Christmas tree.
The Kennedys stand beside the Christmas tree in the White House. Robert Knudsen 1962

While the previous year’s tree was festooned with ribbons, the 1962 tree did without, putting the focus on the ornaments. 

Caroline Kennedy and a friend decorate the 1962 White House Christmas tree.
A young Caroline Kennedy and a friend hang candy canes on the Christmas tree in the Entrance Hall of the White House. Cecil Stoughton 1962

The Kennedys actually spent Christmas Day in sunny Palm Beach, Florida at the home of philanthropist and oil executive C. Michael Paul. The photographs from this occasion show a more relaxed Kennedy family in the company of relatives and close friends. 

The Kennedy family gathered in front of the fireplace in the Palm Beach residence of C. Michael Paul on Christmas day 1962.
The Kennedy family on Christmas Day. Left to Right: Caroline Kennedy; Gustavo Paredes (son of Mrs. Kennedy’s assistant, Providencia “Provi” Paredes); First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, holding her nephew Anthony Radziwill; John F. Kennedy, Jr.; President Kennedy; Prince Stanislaus Radziwill of Poland; Princess Lee Radziwill (Mrs. Kennedy’s sister), holding her daughter, Anna Christina Radziwill. Also pictured: Kennedy family dogs, Clipper (left) and Charlie (held by Mrs. Kennedy). Cecil Stoughton 1962

This was a time when Christmas was only just becoming too commercialized (which was a major theme of Charles Schulz’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” released three years later). We can see that the Christmas decorations here are more traditional, with a green tree, homemade stockings, and yule logs on the mantel. In fact, the Christmas decor is downright spartan! Despite being the home of a wealthy, well-connected businessman, the holiday decor is nothing exaggerated.

Jackie Kennedy embraces son JFK Jr. while Caroline stands by the fireplace on Christmas Day 1962.
Jackie, in her signature pink, embraces a young JFK, Jr. while young Caroline turns her attention the the stockings. Cecil Stoughton 1962


Tragically, the Kennedy presidency was cut short in November 1963, just weeks before Christmas. Dallas, where John F. Kennedy was assassinated, would for years be known as “the city of hate.” 

JFK and Jackie arrive in Dallas, November 1963.
The President and Mrs. Kennedy arrive in Dallas on that fateful day in November 1963. Cecil Stoughton

It was this fateful event that would cement the Kennedy legacy forever. Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hat and pink suit would become an iconic American image thereupon. Only a week later, she would give an interview to Life magazine where, in an astute effort at myth-making, she would relate the Kennedy presidency to the Camelot of Arthurian legend. For decades the Kennedy years would be seen as a halcyon moment of American history. 

For 1963, Kennedys had planned to send out Christmas prints of the White House Blue Room as painted by Edward Lehman. Alas, they would not be sent out after all. 

However, a White House Christmas tree was once again displayed in the Blue Room for 1963 under newly sworn-in President Johnson. In keeping with the mourning mood of the country, the 1963 tree was a much more modest affair than the one first displayed by the Kennedys only 2 years earlier. 

The more somber 1963 Christmas tree stand in the renovated Blue Room of the White House.
The 1963 tree is moved back into the newly renovated Blue Room under new President LBJ. The smaller size reflects the somber nature of the occasion after the assassination of JFK only a month prior.

Merry Christmas!

I hope you enjoyed this short look back at Christmas in the Kennedy White House! I wish you all a lovely holiday season and good tidings for the coming year.

If you have not already, check out my previous Christmas posts: “2022 Christmas Ornaments” and “Where to Shop for Last-Minute Gifts in Seattle.”

Merry Christmas!

An illustration of a Christmas Tree in the White House Blue Room.
I was not able to attribute this illustration, but it shows a Christmas tree standing in the Blue Room of the White House as it looks after the Kennedy renovation.

“Don’t let it be forgot that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot”

Lerner and Loewe’s “Camelot”


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