(Host) Commentator Cyndy Bittinger recalls Christmas in the Coolidge White House of the 1920s.
(Bittinger) Vermont was very much a part of our nation’s first Community Christmas tree lighting ceremony on the Ellipse. Middlebury College sent a 60 foot fir and Vermont born President Calvin Coolidge lit the 3,000 lights on the tree with a button he pressed with his foot. With a fanfare of trumpets, the Christmas season of 1923 had begun.
First Lady and Vermonter Grace Coolidge brightened the days of hospital patients and those in children’s homes with the sunshine of her smile and personality when she visited them during the holidays. She gave out toys with Santa Claus for the Mission and distributed baskets at the Salvation Army.
She was the singer in the family. She brought modern caroling to the White House in 1923 when she asked the Sunday Evening Star newspaper to print the verses of the Christmas carols being sung, so when the First Congregational Church Choir sang carols from the White House over the radio, more than a million Americans could sing along.
She also arranged a dance for her sons that year. Grace, the vivacious one of the couple, danced with 60 boys that night.
Also from that year, a clipping from the Washington Post reads: “President Coolidge and Calvin Jr., age 15, joined the holiday shoppers. Men’s furnishing stores were a three-to-two favorite with President Coolidge during a window shopping walk last evening The sidewalks were crowded with late shoppers, but less than a dozen persons recognized the President and his son in the crush of the hurrying throngs.”
The article continued, “Santa Claus has included on his huge list of places to be visited this year – the White House, because there are two boys there eagerly awaiting (him), despite their lately acquired dignity of long trousers In his White House pack Santa Claus should include radio apparatus, airplane models, plenty of books, and a musical instrument or two.”
The boys were the first youngsters to spend Christmas day in the White House since President Wilson had celebrated the holidays with his grandchildren three years earlier.
But by Christmas of the following year, second son Calvin Jr. had died and it was a difficult time for the president.
He wrote to his father, “It is getting to be almost Christmas time again. I always think of mother and Abbie and grandmother and now of Calvin.”
Coolidge was the first president to issue a Christmas message to the American people. In 1927, it was published in newspapers across the land. This too became a tradition with his successors. Coolidge wrote, “Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”
Wishing you all Happy Holidays, this is Cyndy Bittinger, documenting the Coolidge legacy in Plymouth.
Cyndy Bittinger is executive director of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation.