Quirky White House Traditions You Never Knew About

Your family surely has their own traditions but White House traditions are a whole other level of long-standing pomp and circumstance. Tradition governs almost everything done in the White House, from the Oath of Office through the holidays. But like any good tradition, White House customs and American Presidential traditions change with the times, and with new presidents. The White House Christmas Tree, for example, has gone from a private tree for only the First Family to a massive, themed celebration the whole country can watch.

Likewise, as the US has moved forward in diversity, so too have White House traditions. The first public tree lighting was a whites-only event, while the Easter Egg Roll wasn't integrated until the 1950s. Such slights would be unthinkable now, but were all part of old traditions. The White House has moved away from overtly Christian celebrations and embraced Judaism and African religions at the same time.

Here are some of the most interesting and unusual White House traditions, from what a new president is sworn in on to what candy the chocolate White House is made of for Christmas.

  • Big Block of Cheese Day
    Photo: Thomas Sully / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Big Block of Cheese Day

    In a fit of desperation to improve public opinion of his flagging presidency, Andrew Jackson threw open the doors of the White House and gave the people cheese. A lot of cheese. He'd been gifted a 1,400 pound wheel of cheddar, and had only managed to eat or give away a tiny bit. With the stench overpowering the staff, Jackson decided to let the citizens of Washington have it. They devoured it within hours.

    Years later, the act was referenced in an episode of The West Wing as an inspiration for the fictional Bartlett administration to allow people to ask questions of the White House staff. President Obama took it one step further, and held an online Big Block of Cheese Day in 2014, and again in 2015.

  • Indoor Snowball Fight

    Putting a huge wheel of cheese in the White House wasn't Andrew Jackson's only innovation. He took advantage of a Christmas with no snow in 1834 to throw an elaborate Christmas party for his children and grandchildren. Besides games, dancing, and a grand dinner, Jackson's party had an indoor “snowball fight” with specially fashioned cotton balls. The fight, sadly, has never been repeated.

  • Blue Room Christmas Tree
    Photo: The White House / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    Blue Room Christmas Tree

    Benjamin Harrison was likely the first president to have any kind of Christmas tree in the white house. However, this is disputed by historians. For years after that, the tree was kept in the Library, for only the First Family to enjoy.

    President William Howard Taft was the first president to have a tree in the public portion of the White House, placing his tree in the Blue Room in 1909. His children helped him decorate it, placing candies and lights for all to see. Today, the Blue Room still hosts the official tree, which is one of many trees in the White House. Many presidents and their families have posed in front of it for their official Christmas photo, along with countless tourists.
  • Teddy's Green Christmas
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Teddy's Green Christmas

    As a committed conservationist, President Theodore Roosevelt didn’t believe in cutting down trees for Christmas decorations. His White House had no tree in most of the years of his presidency, with him either forbidding them or simply not ordering one.

    Instead of a tree, Teddy threw a carnival for children, featuring dinner, dancing, souvenirs, and Santa-shaped ice cream. However, Roosevelt’s son Archie defied the Christmas tree ban in 1903, and smuggled a small tree into an upstairs sewing room.