The First Lady of the United States has once again included a traditional nativity scene in the Christmas decorations at the White House.

Melania Trump released photos and videos of her Christmas preparations at the White House. Her theme this year is “American Treasures,” but among the colorful trees, gingerbread cityscapes, and tributes to the First Lady’s “Be Best” initiative rests an antique nativity scene.

The 300-year-old nativity scene first was a 1967 gift to the White House from philanthropist and collector Mrs. Charles W. Englehard, a founding member of First Lady Jackie Kennedy’s committee to restore the aging White House. 

Albert J. Menendez, author of Christmas in the White House, wrote that Mrs. Kennedy’s successor, Lady Bird Johnson, asked Mrs. Englehard to find an appropriate manger scene for the White House Christmas collection. After scouring Europe, Englehard found the eighteenth century Neapolitan creche through the Christmas Crib Association of Italy. There are 22 wooden figures in the set, which has a backdrop of wood and terracotta. The figures are ornately dressed and the Three Wise Men ride horses instead of camels.

Baby Jesus is crowned.

According to the White House Historical Association (WHHA), it has been customary for the First Lady to prepare the White House for Christmas since First Lady Lou Henry Hoover decorated an “official tree” in the White House in 1929.

“Since that time, the honor of trimming the Christmas tree on the state floor has belonged to our first ladies,” the WHHA explains on its website. “The tree stands in the oval Blue Room, and elegant space honored as the center of holiday splendor.”

In 1961, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began a new tradition of choosing a theme and decorating the White House rooms with the help of staff and volunteers.

“At times certain decorations have been especially popular with visitors and returned each year such as the Cranberry tree in the Red Room that made its first appearance in 1975,” says the WHHA. 

“For more than 50 years, White House holiday themes have included largely nostalgic or traditional themes, such as the Nutcracker Suite, early America, American Flowers, an old-fashioned traditional Christmas, antique toys, Mother Goose, family literacy, the Twelve Days of Christmas, Home for the Holidays, and Simple Gifts,” it continues.

“The elegant White House mantels throughout the Ground Level and State Floor become the canvas of some of the most creative and beautiful decorations shaped each year by the theme of the first lady’s holiday décor.”

Date published: 18/12/2018
Written by: Dorothy Cummings McLean
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