Here's Why Mamie Eisenhower Was Called Mrs. Christmas

Mamie Eisenhower White House Christmas
Photo: Historical/Getty Images

When Mamie Eisenhower entered the White House after her husband, Dwight Eisenhower, was elected president in 1953, she happily became the nation's First Lady and leading self-professed "proud housewife." As such, Mamie was closely involved with the White House's domestic staff, even going so far as to collect grocery coupons from the paper and doling out birthday cards and gifts to the people she worked with. According to Biography, under Mamie's supervision, the White House entertained an unprecedented number of foreign leaders, and the staff gave her the title of "Hostess in Chief." Come the holidays, though, and Mamie earned another title: Mrs. Christmas.

Mamie Eisenhower Becomes Mrs. Christmas

Mamie wanted to go all out for her family's first Christmas in the White House. According to the Washington Post, that meant sharing Christmas with the entire White House staff. "It's been my desire, all my life, to be able to give a Christmas gift to everybody who works for me!" Mamie reportedly said. The first lady invited all of the White House employees to the family Christmas tree and she gave them each a gift.

Mamie's Christmas spirit extended far beyond the walls of the White House, though. When poorer American families wrote the First Lady's office seeking help buying gifts for their own children, she instructed her staff to take the toys and other presents sent to the White House for her well-taken-care-of grandchildren and share them with needier families.

Mamie Eisenhower Decks the Halls

Mamie's love of Christmas extended to specially-designed White House Christmas cards, a special set of Christmas china, and, of course, a flurry of Christmas decorations set up around their storied home. As White House Chief Usher J. B. West said, "Mamie Eisenhower decked the halls with more than holly." Not only did the First Lady decorate the White House's East Room and outside walls as per tradition, but she transformed the entire presidential home into a winter wonderland. She displayed three Nativity dioramas in the East Room of the White House, hung holly on chandeliers, wrapped green roping and oversized red bows around the staid old columns, slapped wreaths on centuries-old candelabra, and put Christmas trees everywhere. In 1959, she had 26 Christmas trees around the White House. Even that over-the-top touch wasn't the extent of her decorating. "Prerecorded Christmas carols blasted from beneath an otherwise harmless tree in the East Room," remembered West, the former chief usher, per the Post.

How to See Her Decorations Today

Today the Christmas tradition continues at the Eisenhower National Historic Site, which is part of the National Park Service. Come Christmas the Eisenhower homestead in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is turned into a Christmas vision, complete with mistletoe, wreaths, and poinsettias, piped in Christmas carols, a candy cane-covered Christmas tree, a life-sized Santa Claus, and the nativity dioramas that Mamie used to display in the White House (the National Park Service offered a virtual tour in pandemic years—check the website for this year's plans). Some years have even included a holiday reception each December with special treats for everyone—just like Mamie would have wanted it.

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