John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy was a Massachusetts senator when he declared his intent to run for President for the election of 1960. Defeating Hubert Humphrey for the democratic candidacy, Kennedy ran against Republic Richard M. Nixon, who was also the Vice President of the lame duck Eisenhower administration. During the first ever televised U.S. presidential debates in late September, less than two months before the election, Kennedy trumped Nixon with his poised, relaxed demeanor and handsomely tan appearance. Nixon, who was sporting his perpetual five o’clock shadow, appeared tense on camera and was 20 pounds underweight due to a serious leg injury from which he was recovering.
The televised presidential debates are said to have given Kennedy his advantage in the election. While he only led Nixon in the popular vote by 2/10 of a percent, he won in the Electoral College with 303 votes, making him the 35th President of the United States and the first and only Roman Catholic President.
For the Kennedys’ first Christmas in the White House in 1961, as a Christmas gift to their staff they gave a photograph of little Caroline Kennedy’s ducks in the fountain on the South Lawn with the White House in the background. Caroline, who was only five-years-old at the time, had raised the yellow-beaked white ducks from baby ducklings. After several months of trying to keep the Kennedy’s terrier, Charlie, from eating her fine-feathered friends, they were transported to safer grounds in Rock Creek Park located in northwest D.C. Before the ducks’ transfer, the President’s personal photographer, Cecil Stoughton, snapped the memorable picture of the ducks in the fountain.
Hallmark president Joyce C. Hall, who had been Eisenhower’s go-to man for Christmas cards and gift prints, was again commissioned to assist the Kennedys with their Christmas cards endeavors. Hallmark reproduced 1,000 color gift prints, each accompanied by a red protective folder with an embossed Presidential Seal on the front. The Christmas gift prints were given to White House staff members at an informal reception held in mid-December.
For the President’s official White House Christmas cards, Hallmark produced a design similar to the ones from Eisenhower’s presidency. The 1961 White House Christmas cards featured a wide green silk screen ban on a smooth white stock accompanied by the official Presidential Seal and the sentiment “Season’s Greetings 1961” engraved in gold. The imprint read: “The President and Mrs. Kennedy wish you a Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.” Kennedy ordered 800 official Christmas cards from Hallmark. Additionally, since the President was sending Christmas cards to leaders around the world, he ordered 100 cards with a general New Year’s imprint that did not make any mention of Christmas.
On December 20, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson lit the 75-foot Washington state Douglas fir, initiating the first Pageant of Peace during the Kennedy administration. The President could not be present at the ceremony because the Kennedy patriarch, Joseph P. Kennedy, suffered a stroke and the First Family flew down to Palm Beach, Florida to be with him. Johnson delivered the official Christmas message to the American people. He spoke of the nation’s dedication to seeking world peace, comparing that dedication to Christ’s quest for unity.
During her short stay in the White House, First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy took on the task of making the United States’ most well known residence a showcase of American art and history. By early 1962, four rooms had been completed and restored back to their original grandeur, and the First Lady welcomed the nation and the media to witness and experience her grand-scale works.
Edward Lehman, an advertising illustrator, was commissioned to sketch some renderings of the rooms for the home furnishings section of the Philadelphia Bulletin. The First Lady took a particular liking to Lehman as well as his artistry, and at his request, he was invited back to the White House to paint a 20 x 30-inch watercolor of the Red Room for the Kennedys. The President and First Lady were so impressed with Lehman’s watercolor that they had it reproduced for their 1962 Christmas gifts to their White House staff.
Hallmark reproduced the gift prints, and similar to the year prior, each was accompanied by a red protective folder. The Kennedys gave out 2,000 Christmas gift prints to their staff at the annual Christmas party held on December 12. Cabinet and executive staff members also received a red leather-bound copy of The White House, An Historic Guide, the first book published by the First Lady’s newly created White House Historical Association.
The official White House Christmas cards were a bit different than ones from designs of recent years past. Instead of a formal design featuring a “Season’s Greetings” sentiment and the Presidential Seal, the official Presidential Christmas cards from 1962 featured a photograph taken by Cecil Stoughton of a snow-covered White House lawn. With the executive mansion in the background, the foreground depicted Mrs. Kennedy sitting with John Jr. in a one-horse open sleigh being led by Caroline’s pony, Macaroni.
President Kennedy had almost 2,000 official White House Christmas cards produced by Hallmark with varying imprints. Most said “Christmas Greetings and Best Wishes for a Happy New Year” and included an imprint of the President’s signature. The other imprints were non-Christmas oriented and only some of these included the President’s signature imprint.
On December 17 at 5:15PM, Kennedy lit the National Community Christmas tree at the Pageant of Peace. It was the only year he’d be present at the ceremony. The tree was a 72-foot blue spruce from Colorado decorated with 5,000 lights and 4,000 ornaments. With the Cuban Missile Crisis ensuing only two months prior, the President spoke of peace in his Christmas message to the American people. He expressed hope for peace “after a year when the peace [had] been sorely tried.”
The President and First Lady were so impressed with Lehman’s watercolor of the Red Room from the year prior that Mrs. Kennedy personally asked him to come back to the White House in spring of 1963 to paint the newly remodeled Green Room and Blue Room. The Kennedys had Lehman’s Green Room watercolor reproduced for their 1963 Christmas gift prints to their staff. Hallmark reproduced 2,300 gift prints with a personalized greeting from the President and First Lady. Two thousand of the Christmas gift prints were sent directly to Washington with accompanying folders. Three hundred prints were retained by Hallmark, 200 of which were requested by the White House to have no personalized message and no folder.
Lehman returned to the White House to finish his watercolor of the Blue Room, which the President and Mrs. Kennedy were planning on using for the 1964 Christmas gift prints to their staff. While the Blue Room watercolor was completed, it was never reproduced due to the unfortunate events that took place on November 22, 1963. Almost one month before Christmas, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated while touring around Dallas, Texas in an open-aired limousine.
Mrs. Kennedy did give the Green Room Christmas gift prints out to the White House staff after the President’s death, but the official White House Christmas cards of 1963 were never distributed. The designed had already been chosen and printed by Hallmark – a color photograph of the crèche in the East Room accompanied by a gold embossed Presidential Seal and the engraved message, “With our wishes for a Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.” One thousand-five hundred were printed with the President and First Lady’s signatures while 750 were printed with just the message. One hundred-fifty were also printed with the engraved message, “With best wishes for a Happy New Year” – most containing Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy’s signatures.
In total, 750 presidential Christmas cards were ordered without signatures, 500 of which were shipped from Hallmark before Kennedy’s assassination. Only a few days before they flew to Dallas, the President and First Lady personally signed about 30 Christmas cards, which are perhaps the rarest Christmas cards of any President in modern times.
Before his untimely death, the President and First Lady decided upon a Christmas gift to give to their executive staff members, which Mrs. Kennedy also proceeded in bestowing. The gifts were mounted reproductions of the President’s favorite William Henry Bartlett engraving, The President’s House, From Washington, which hung in his office. Each reproduction was signed by the President and First Lady: “With deepest appreciation, John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy.”
Two additional White House Christmas cards were produced in 1963 by Hallmark. The designs were painted by Jacqueline Kennedy, herself, and the proceeds from their sale went to build the present day Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. One of the designs, entitled Journey of the Magi, depicted the three wise men on their way to Bethlehem. The other design, entitled Glad Tidings, depicted a golden-haired angel announcing the birth of Christ.
The 71-foot Norway red spruce from West Virginia was lit on December 22, marking the end of the 30-day mourning period after the President’s assassination. During his Christmas message to the American people, President Johnson said, “Today we come to the end of a season of great national sorrow, and to the beginning of the season of great, eternal joy. We mourn our great President, John F. Kennedy, but he would have us go on. While our spirits cannot be light, our hearts need not be heavy.”
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