Immediately following Richard Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974, Gerald Ford was sworn in as the 38th President of the United States. He nominated former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to fill his vacated position as Vice President, and Rockefeller was officially confirmed several months later. Perhaps one of Ford’s most controversial decisions – one that he made only weeks after taking the Presidential Oath of Office – was pardoning Richard Nixon for all the crimes he may have committed during his presidency. Nixon’s pardon might have been the best Christmas present he ever received.
Having to move into the White House so suddenly and getting settled, the new First Family had very little time to prepare for their 1974 Christmas. The most recent presidents and their families took their Christmas decorations with them, so Mrs. Ford had to get the White House in order for the holiday season from start to finish. She decided on a patchwork theme, and commissioned several artisan workshops from around the nation to create ornaments for the White House Christmas tree. Because the country was in the worst economic times since the 1930s, the patchwork theme was to symbolize simplicity and financial prudence.
For their first Christmas gift to the White House staff, President Ford and the First Lady had 5,000 reproductions made by Hallmark of George Henry Durrie’s painting, New England Snow Scene. The winter-themed painting featured a craggy mount and a snow-covered farmhouse and stable in the background with an approaching traveler in a horse-drawn sleigh in the foreground. The actual painting had been acquired during Nixon’s presidency and hung on the second floor of the White House.
While the Fords traditionally sent photo Christmas cards depicting their entire family, they decided it might not be appropriate enough to serve as the official Christmas cards from the President. Instead, Hallmark reproduced an engraving inspired by English artist H. Brown entitled, The President’s House, Washington. The 1831 engraving depicted the White House in a pastoral setting with a French style garden in the foreground.
Each lithograph was printed on silk with a gold frame border and bounded by an additional green border. President Ford and the First Lady ordered 50,000 White House Christmas cards from Hallmark that year. The inside of each card contained an embossed Presidential Seal and the green engraved imprint, “With best wishes from our family for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, The President and Mrs. Ford.”
On December 17, President Ford lit the National Community Christmas Tree. The tree, a living 42-foot Colorado blue spruce from Pennsylvania, was decorated with energy conservation in mind. In his first Christmas greeting to the American people, the President mentioned that as a former National Park Service ranger and as someone concerned with environmental conservation, he was very pleased by the fact that his first National Christmas tree was a living one. He then went on to make an analogy between himself and the tree. He said, “That tree and I have a lot in common. Neither one of us expected to be in the White House a few months ago. Both of us were a little green, both of us were put on a pedestal. And I’d like to add this as a post-script – we’ve both been trimmed a little lately.”
In 1975, with America’s Bicentennial approaching, the Fords had he White House decorated the appropriately reflect Colonial times. With advisement from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation staff, Mrs. Ford had the White House Christmas tree decorated with 3,000 ornaments that evoked the style of Christmas decorations found in early American homes.
For their 1975 Christmas gift prints to the White House staff, the Fords selected another George Henry Durrie painting entitled, Farmyard in Winter. The original was purchased during Mrs. Nixon’s White House restoration project and hung in the Green Room. Durrie’s painting depicted a bucolic winterscape with a snow-covered farmhouse and cattle in the background along with a stark, barren tree in the foreground. The Fords ordered 5,000 Christmas gift prints to be reproduced by Hallmark.
President Ford and the First Lady were so enamored by Durrie’s work that they used the same painting for their official White House Christmas cards. Hallmark reproduced 35,000 Christmas cards, each depicting a lithograph of Durrie’s Farmyard in Winter and bounded by red foil.
On December 18, the President lit the National Community Christmas tree. To commemorate the Bicentennial, the living 42-foot Colorado blue spruce from Pennsylvania (the same tree from the year prior) was patriotically decorated with red, white, and blue ornaments and topped with a replica of the Liberty Bell. During the President’s annual Christmas greeting to the American people, Ford said, “As we enter American’s third century, let us make sure we carry with us out our abiding faith in the ultimate triumph of peace on earth and the living example of good will to all men and women.”
1976 was an election year. Ford ran for re-election, but was defeated by Democratic opponent, Jimmy Carter, making it his last Christmas in the White House. For their final Christmas decorating theme, Mrs. Ford focused on nature to enhance the Executive Mansion for the holiday season. The White House Christmas tree was embellished with 2,500 handmade flowers, representing the state flowers from all 50 states.
For their 1976 White House staff Christmas gift prints, the Fords gave reproductions of Ferdinand Richardt’s painting, Philadelphia in 1858. The actual painting, which hung in the Green Room, was purchased by Albert Nesle, friend of White House curator Clme Conger, from an estate auction in Hyberabad, India. Hallmark reproduced 5,000 Christmas gift prints along with accompanying protective folders for the Fords.
The President and Mrs. Ford liked the works of George Henry Durrie, so it was no surprise that they selected another one of his paintings for the design of their third and final White House Christmas cards. The painting, entitled Going to Church, depicted a white New England church with a pointed steeple in a bucolic setting with parishioners making their way to the door. The Fords had Hallmark produce 25,000 Presidential Christmas cards, each card bounded with a blue foil border.
The President lit his last National Community Christmas Tree on December 16. The living 45-foot Colorado blue spruce had deteriorated from use in the years prior, and additional branches were brought in to cover up the blemished parts. For his final Christmas greeting to the American people, President Ford spoke about peace as “…more than absence of battle. It is also the absence of prejudice and the triumph of understanding.”
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