Fact Check

White House Ban on 'Christmas' Trees

Has the White House decreed that its 2013 Christmas trees will be referred to as 'Holiday trees'?

Published Oct. 12, 2009


Claim:   The White House has decreed that its 2013 Christmas trees will be referred to as "Holiday trees."



[Collected via e-mail, August 2009]

Hello all,

Thought you might be interested in this information from the White House. This isn't a rumor; this is a fact.

We have a friend at church who is a very talented artist. For several years she, among many others, has painted ornaments to be hung on the various White House Christmas trees. The WH sends out an invitation to send an ornament and informs the artists of the theme for the year.

She got her letter from the WH recently. It said that they would not be called Christmas trees this year. They will be called Holiday trees. And, to please not send any ornaments painted with a religious theme.

She was very upset at this development and sent back a reply telling them that she painted the ornaments for Christmas trees and would not be sending any for display that left Christ out of Christmas.

Just thought you should know what the new residents in the WH plan for the future of America. If you missed his statement that "we do not consider ourselves a Christian Nation" this should confirm that he plans to take us away from our religious foundation as quickly as possible.

[Collected via e-mail, December 2013]

It was announced that there will not be Christmas trees at the White house this year. They will be called Holiday Trees. Obama says this is no longer a Christian Country, it's a country of many faiths. We as Americans must send the message to Obama that this Country was founded on Christian beliefs and we are STILL a Christian Country. Please re-post this and let's stand up for CHRIST!!!!!!!!!!...


Origins:   This item about the White House sending out letters stating that henceforth Christmas trees would be referred to as "Holiday trees" and spurning ornaments with religious themes originally circulated during the Obamas' first Christmas in the White House in 2009 and popped up again in 2011 and again in 2013. It was false in 2009 and 2011, and is just as false in 2013.

As White House spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield stated back in 2009:

There is no truth to this, and the letter referenced in the e-mail does not exist. No letter has gone out yet from the White House pertaining to Christmas tree ornaments. The trees in the White House will be called Christmas trees, and the tree on the Ellipse will be called the National Christmas Tree. There will be no name changes.

The misunderstanding seems to have originated with the fact that during the eight years of the George W. Bush administration, First Lady Laura Bush chose particular (non-religious) themes for the White House Christmas trees, and then sent ornaments to related organizations and asked them to select artists to decorate them in accordance with the given

theme. In 2007, for example, the theme was "Holiday in the National Parks," and ornaments were sent to each of the 391 national parks in the United States for decoration. Likewise, for a "Red, White and Blue Christmas" in 2008, Mrs. Bush asked members of Congress to pick artists to decorate ornaments showcasing the 435 congressional districts in the United States.

Michelle Obama didn't exactly continue Laura Bush's tradition of soliciting artists to decorate ornaments according to the year's chosen holiday theme, but in 2009 the White House did have seven different Christmas trees (not "Holiday trees") decorated with appropriate ornaments. The First Lady chose a slightly different approach than her predecessor for selecting White House Christmas decorations in 2009:

The biggest of [the White House Christmas trees] — the 18½ foot Douglas fir in the Blue Room — is decorated with recycled ornaments that Mrs. Obama's team dug out of the warehouse where old White House decorations are stored.

"We took about 800 ornaments left over from previous administrations, we sent them to 60 local community groups throughout the country, and asked them to decorate them to pay tribute to a favorite local landmark and then send them back to us for display here at the White House," said Mrs. Obama.

Decorating in woodland colors of brown, gold, claret and cinnamon, Mrs. Obama chose as her theme, "Reflect. Rejoice. Renew." Aides said the toned-down décor was both a nod to the tough economic times and Mrs. Obama's interest in environmentalism. (The traditional White House gingerbread house features a miniature kitchen garden like the one Mrs. Obama had dug on the South Lawn.)

Michelle Obama took delivery of the White House Christmas tree (which was clearly labeled as such) on 27 November 2009:

Photographs of the 2009 White House Christmas trees and decorations can be viewed here. There's also a White House web page detailing its 2010 Christmas trees and decorations.

The 2011 White House Christmas Tree (again clearly identified as such) was delivered on 25 November 2011:

A video clip of Michelle Obama welcoming military families for a first peek at the White House holiday decorations on 30 November 2011 captures the First Lady plainly referring to the White House's "Christmas tree":

The official White House Christmas Tree was also called exactly that in 2013:

As for the claim about a supposed ban on Christmas tree ornaments bearing religious themes, the closest match appears to be an earlier brouhaha involving the Capitol Christmas Tree, which is set up every Christmas holiday season on the West Front lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Each year one of the fifty states is afforded the honor of supplying that season's Capitol Christmas Tree, along with 75 smaller trees to be dispersed around the Capitol, and residents of that state are invited to create and submit ornaments for display on those trees. (In 2009, that honor fell to the state of Arizona.)

The Capitol Christmas Tree program spurred a controversy in the autumn of 2009 over guidelines issued to the sponsoring
U.S. Forest Service agency by the Architect of the U.S. Capitol's Office stating that submitted ornaments could not reflect religious or political themes. However, according to that agency, those were outdated regulations that had been inadvertently disseminated via the Capitol Christmas Tree web site and had since been rescinded:

There was information that no religious or political ornaments would be allowed on the tree.

But according to USDA forest service spokesman Jim Payne, it came from old information posted on the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree website and has since been removed.

Payne said the only restrictions on the ornaments is that they have to be weatherproof and meet size requirements.

An examination of past Capitol Christmas Tree web sites shows that a prohibition on religiously-themed ornaments was indeed in effect over at least the past few years (prior to the Obama administration), although that policy apparently did not become a target of organized protest until 2009. Ornament criteria information linked from the 2008 site, for example, states that:

Ornaments cannot reflect a religious or political theme. Instead, share your interpretation of our theme "Sharing Montana's Treasures."

Likewise, participant information linked from the 2007 site directs that:

Ornament[s] with religious themes are not acceptable.

Last updated:   10 December 2013


    Hackett, Regina.   "Seattle Ornament Banned from White House Christmas Tree."

    Seattle Post-Intelligencer.   3 December 2008.

    Hubbard, Amy.   "White House Christmas Tree — Or Is It 'Holiday' Tree? — Arrives."

    Los Angeles Times.   25 November 2011.

    Irvin, Steve.   "Arizona Students Create Holiday Decorations Amid Controversy."

    KNXV-TV [Phoenix].   2 October 2009.

    Westfall, Sandra.   "Obamas Recycle Ornaments from Christmas Past."

    People.   2 December 2009.

    Daily Mail.   "I'm Dreaming of a White House Christmas."

    4 December 2009.

    FOX News.   "White House Receives Christmas Tree."

    27 November 2009.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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