The Reagans Christmas Traditions

Christmas in Illinois, where both Ronald and Nancy Reagan grew up, was a sharp contrast to their Christmases in Washington. The President has recalled that his family never had a really fancy Christmas. During the Depression, when they couldn't afford a Christmas tree, his mother would decorate a table or make a cardboard fireplace out of a packing box.

The First Lady had fond childhood memories of her family's old-fashioned tree decorated with all the ornaments she and her brother had made in school. Little Nancy would stay awake Christmas Eve listening for the sound of reindeer on the roof, waiting anxiously to see if she had received what she had requested in her letter to Santa.

As First Lady, Nancy Reagan was much less dependent on Santa. "Christmas at the White House was truly magical," she recalled. "The huge tree in the Blue Room was very beautiful; the trees in the East Room looked like they were standing in snow with tiny white lights on them."

To share the aura of the White House at Christmas, the Reagans decided to invite young American artists to paint scenes of the Executive Mansion for their Christmas Cards and gifts. During the President's first term in office, they commissioned Jamie Wyeth to paint two exterior views of the White House at Christmas in both 1981 and 1984. Wyeth captured an evening and morning scene to depict the White House at Christmas.

During Reagan's first term, he also commissioned James Steinmeyer and Mark Hampton to do non-holiday renderings of the Red Room and the Green Room, respectively. For the second term in office, the Reagans settled on one artist, Thomas William Jones, and one theme, Christmas inside the White House.