Christmas in the 1920s: Birth of the National Christmas Tree

Community Christmas tree in 1923

Back in the early 2000s when I was going to school at American University in Washington D.C., I had the pleasure of getting to go to see the lighting of the National Christmas tree. I always loved Christmas, but up until that point I didn’t actually know that there was a National Christmas tree. And now I just learned that the tradition dates back to my favorite decade, the 1920s.

The idea apparently originated with an engineer named Frederick Morris Feiker who, in 1921, joined the staff of then US Sec. of Commerce Herbert Hoover. An electrical industry trade group was trying to convince people to buy electric Christmas lights and Feiker suggested President Calvin Coolidge personally light such an illuminated tree to give prominence to the product and such a tradition was born. Yup, capitalism, the American way.

Community Christmas tree being planted in 1924
The planting of the National Christmas tree in 1924.

And so, in November 1923, Columbia Public Schools erected a Christmas tree on the Ellipse south of the White House. On Christmas Eve, President Coolidge lit the lights to a crowd of onlookers. In 1942, and for the rest of the duration of World War II, the tree was not lit in order to both conserve power and for security reasons. Otherwise, it has always been lit, and while it has moved to different locations, and the ceremonies have changed, the tradition remains.

Calvin Coolidge lights the US national Christmas tree in 1924
President Coolidge lighting the National Christmas tree in 1924.
Pres. Hoover lights in 1929 national Christmas tree
President Hoover lighting the tree in 1929.

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