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Gifts from the Roosevelts
It has become a time-honored tradition for the President and First Lady to distribute Christmas cards and gifts during the holiday season. Below are a few of the items Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt gave to family, friends, and staff during their time in the White House.
During the Roosevelts’ first year in the White House they began a tradition of distributing Christmas cards to family, friends, Cabinet members, and staff.
In 1934 was FDR published a book titled On Our Way, which outlined his plans for the New Deal and raising the United States out of the Depression. Autographed copies went sent out at Christmastime.
1935 – 1939
In 1926 Eleanor Roosevelt and friends Nancy Cook, Marion Dickerman, and Caroline O’Day created Val-Kill Industries on an estate purchased in Hyde Park. The enterprise created employment for local craftsman. To promote the business, the Roosevelts gifted several pieces created in the Val-Kill pewter forge during the holidays.
This year the Roosevelts choose to give White House staff members key chains with a figure of FDR’s beloved Scottish Terrier Fala attached. Some staff, Cabinet members, and friends received money clips and initialed desk pads.
Autographed photos of the President and First Lady were sent out this year to all staff and friends. Cabinet members, family, and select friends also received bound copies of FDR’s speeches.
With the country at war, Americans were encouraged to contribute to the war effort by purchasing defense bonds and stamps. The Roosevelts promoted the idea by giving black leather folders containing war savings bonds for Christmas.
One of the Christmas gifts from the Roosevelts this year was a magnifier paperweight.
On June 6, 1944, what became known as “D-Day,” President Roosevelt addressed the nation with a blessing for the American troops invading German-occupied Europe. The prayer, entitled “Let Our Hearts Be Stout,” was printed that December and given as gifts by the Roosevelts. Below is a facsimile copy of the prayer that is available for purchase at the FDR Library’s New Deal Store.
How the Roosevelts Spent Christmas, 1936
As the holiday season approaches, we often get asked for details about how the Roosevelts spent Christmas in the White House. This memorandum describes the plans for Christmas 1936, including how the White House was decorated, the First Family’s schedule and house guests, and even procedures for opening presents. Christmas Eve activities concluded with the President giving his traditional reading of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol to his family.
Christmas was also a busy time in the White House mail room. In addition to all the holiday gifts that you see described in this memo, the Roosevelts received thousands and thousands of Christmas cards every year. According to another document we found, during the their first Christmas in the White House in 1933, the Roosevelts received 300,000 cards.
So may your holiday season be filled with joy and family, and be glad you don’t have to respond to 300,000 cards!
Fala’s Christmas Stocking (MO 2006.347)
In 1941, the staff at the Roosevelt Library celebrated the new institution’s first Christmas by decorating President Roosevelt’s private study. The adornments included this small, blue stocking for FDR’s beloved Scottish terrier, Fala. The stocking can be seen in the photo above hanging next to the President’s.
The scene in this photo was assembled by the Library staff in order to create a Christmas card to send to the President. The Fala sock was supplied by Fred Shipman, the Library’s first Director. The name card was created by James Whitehead, an Assistant Archivist who later became the Museum Curator. The basket of pine cones by the fireplace was sent by the mother of Margaret “Daisy” Suckley (FDR’s distant cousin, who gave Fala to the President in 1940). The greens were collected by Archivist Dr. John S. Curtis and Junior Laborer Steve Bielski. Custodian William J. Plain supplied the logs for the fire.
Please visit the FDR Presidential Library and Museum this holiday season to view the stocking and other holiday decorations temporarily on display in the Museum.