Decking White House Halls With Yuletide Spirit

Some cities are natural settings for Christmas. Washington isn't.

Washington has, perhaps, always been aware that it is not a citadel of the devout. Therefore, it has floundered around through the years, trying to establish at least secular Christmas traditions. Charitable acts by First Families is one of them. Christmas Clubs were formed - the first by Nellie Arthur, the youngest daughter of President Chester Arthur.

She provided 2,000 Christmas dinners for needy children. Grover Cleveland's wife, Frances, immersed herself in a club that concerned itself with providing happy Christmases for African-American children in Washington.

But there was never a Christmas tree in the White House until 1889 when Benjamin Harrison was president. He and his wife had four grandchildren who were locked out of the White House library on Christmas Eve - much to their mystification. Inside, the chief White House gardener, several of his assistants, and the president himself were decorating a Christmas tree.

Theodore Roosevelt, as might be expected, celebrated Christmas in an uproar of friends, family, immense dinners, and riotous games. But Roosevelt, an avid conservationist, forbade Christmas trees in the White House until the chief of the Forestry Service told him it was all right to cut down trees selectively because the thinning-out process permitted new trees to grow. Thereafter, T.R. had Christmas trees.

* This is one of a series of letters airing on Monitor Radio's Weekend Edition this weekend.

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