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White House Holiday Traditions

White House Holiday Traditions

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While it’s just starting to feel like Christmas outside, the holiday spirit has been in full swing at the White House. After months of secret planning, and more than 3,500 hours of work required to hang thousands of feet of garland, numerous 14-foot trees to put up, and hundreds of pounds of cookie dough and gingerbread to bake, according to ABC News, first lady Michelle Obama revealed this year’s theme of "Shine, Give, Share" on Nov. 30. The highlight of the day? The first dog Bo’s omnipresence throughout the building, from Bos made of recycled plastic bags to buttons, licorice, and marshmallows — even one in topiary form.

Click here for the White House Holiday Traditions Slideshow.

Themed holiday decorations are just one of many long-standing White House holiday traditions. First lady Jackie Kennedy started the tradition in 1961, with the theme of “The Nutcracker Suite.” Since then, each first lady has added their own touch through their chosen theme.

The Christmas tree has been a focal point of the White House for every presidential family since 1889. The first lady took receipt of this year’s tree, delivered by horse and carriage, the day after Thanksgiving. At around 20 feet tall, the tree isn’t small, either — last year, 97 decorators volunteered to help put the 18-foot tall Douglas fir up. With the help of ladders and scaffolding, they managed to do it in four days, capturing the whole process on time-lapse video, below.

Decorations aside, the real feat of the holidays at the White House is simply keeping up with the daily demand for holiday sweets — this year’s white chocolate-covered gingerbread manse weighs in at more than 350 pounds (complete with electrical wiring) — for the 100,000 some odd guests who come through in the month of December. According to CBS News, “Christmas at the White House is the single most mentally and physically challenging thing you can do,” former White House chef Walter Scheib has said. In 2006, that meant cookie ornaments and a tree made of pecan sandies. Current chef Bill Yosses has put a limit on how many sweet treats guests can have at receptions — just four.

Given the ample celebrations revolving around the holidays at the White House nowadays, it’s hard to believe that at one point in time — before electricity — presidential wintertime traditions were a private affair. Prior to the 20th century, it wasn’t even an official event. The first tree went up in 1889 for President Benjamin Harrison and his family and was placed in a second floor oval room used as a family parlor. Electric Christmas lights weren’t introduced until 1894, three years after the White House was electrified, delighting President Cleveland’s young daughters. In the years since, the celebrations have evolved as each family puts its own spin on the holiday. In 1903, President Teddy Roosevelt didn’t approve of chopping down perfectly good living, breathing evergreens, so he banned them in the White House. Except, unbeknownst to the president, his son smuggled one in and hid it in the upstairs sewing closet so he could have one like all of his peers.

Click here to see the White House Holiday Traditions Slideshow.

Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights? Recipes for Passover

Tonight and tomorrow night, Jewish families and friends in the United States and around the world will gather for Seders to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt and the triumph of hope and perseverance over injustice and oppression. For most Jewish families, the Passover meal is full traditions passed down through the generations like the maror, or bitter herbs, which symbolize the bitterness of slavery in Egypt or the matzoh, unleavened bread, which recalls the haste with which the Israelites left Egypt &ndash giving them no time to allow their bread to rise.

While some families hold the secret to the fluffiest matzoh balls in town, others have created new traditions to share with their families and friends.

Here at the White House tonight, President and Mrs. Obama will again host a small Seder, complete with recipes provided by friends and family. It&rsquos a tradition that started in Pennsylvania in 2008, when after a long day on the campaign trail then-Senator Obama gathered a group of staffers &ndash Jewish and non-Jewish alike &ndash for an impromptu Seder. Each year since, the same group, along with a few close friends and family, have come together to carry on the tradition at the White House. Among the family recipes on the menu this year are a traditional chicken soup with matzoh balls, braised beef brisket, potato kugel, carrot soufflé, and matzoh chocolate cake.

As the eight days of Passover begin tonight, we reached out to eight Jewish chefs around the country to share their own thoughts, menus and recipes for a healthy, satisfying Seder. We hope these recipes will give you some new ideas for your own Passover traditions.

We&rsquore grateful to these participating chefs:

  • Joan Nathan, Cookbook Author, Washington, DC - Moroccan Charoset Truffles (pdf)
  • Todd Aarons, Executive Chef of Tierra Sur at Herzog Wine Cellars, Oxnard, CA - Persian Style Chicken Soup (pdf)
  • Michelle Bernstein, Chef and Owner of Michy&rsquos and Sra. Martinez, Miami, FL - Moroccan Spiced Cornish Hens (pdf)
  • Gale Gand, Pastry Chef of Tru, Chicago, IL - Passover Lemon Sponge Cake with Strawberries (pdf)
  • Joyce Goldstein, Cookbook Author and Guest Chef for Passover Seder at Perbacco Restaurant, San Francisco, CA - Spinach with Pine Nuts and Raisins (pdf)
  • Peter Hoffman, Chef of Savoy Restaurant, New York, NY - Tahrir Square Salad (pdf)
  • Michael Leviton, Chef of Lumiere, Newton, MA - Maple-Mustard Glazed Smoked Sable (pdf)
  • Michael Solomonov, Chef of Zahav, Philadelphia, PA - Carrot and Apple Salad with Pine Nuts (pdf)

Note: These commentaries, menus and recipes are products of the chefs themselves.

Danielle Borrin is the Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and liaison to the Jewish community.

The White House Holiday Photo Line: A Tradition of Awkwardness

WASHINGTON — As President Obama faced public criticism over his Oval Office address on terrorism this month, one lawmaker took a private moment during a holiday party at the White House to reassure the commander in chief.

“That was a good speech you gave last night, Mr. President,” Representative Steve Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee, told Mr. Obama as he stopped to have his picture taken with him in the photo line at the black-tie congressional ball last week. “It’s hard to be the grown-up in the nation.”

It was one of hundreds of seconds-long interactions that the president and the first lady, Michelle Obama, are having with guests at some of the 20 holiday receptions that crowd their lives each December. Eagerly anticipated, sometimes politically fraught and often agonizingly awkward, photo-line banter with the president has become a staple of the holiday season in Washington, where yuletide ritual meets professional opportunism — all in the course of about six seconds.

“You need to bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities,” Representative Michele Bachmann, Republican of Minnesota, told Mr. Obama last year in one such brief exchange, taking advantage of her last holiday soiree with the president before leaving Congress. The president told her that it was not that simple, according to an account she gave to The Washington Free Beacon.

Jokes are told, interviews are requested and unsolicited advice is given to the president along with handshakes, high-fives and the not-infrequent deer-in-headlights stare from a speechless guest. Family members are introduced — and often star-struck.

“To staff the president and first lady at the holiday photo line is to observe humanity in its most awkward state,” said Bill Burton, a former top press official in Mr. Obama’s White House.


Mr. Obama, who barely tolerates the schmoozing that is presidential tradition, does far fewer receiving lines than his predecessors. George W. Bush and his wife, Laura Bush, worked a photo line at each of the 25 holiday parties he hosted in 2008, his last year in office, but the Obama White House has eliminated all but a handful. Congress and the news media are among the groups that still stand in line for the presidential grip-and-grin.

The Obamas cut back the ritual in part because it is demanding and time-consuming — each line lasts as long as two and a half hours — and in part because they wanted to give as many people as possible an opportunity to visit the White House.

“It’s just long and tiring and pretty hard to get through,” Tina Tchen, Mrs. Obama’s chief of staff, said in an interview. “We also had to balance, from a staff perspective, having photo lines versus how many people we could get in.”

By eliminating the receiving line, Ms. Tchen said, the White House is able to invite twice as many guests to a party. But the private backlash has been fierce in some quarters.

The moment can be about much more than a picture. The congressional party at the White House last week was Mr. Obama’s first face-to-face encounter with Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, since Mr. Ryan assumed his post in November. If the two spoke about the year-end budget agreement needed to prevent the government from shutting down, neither side would say so.

Drama unfolds in the photo line as well. In 1999, a year after managing impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton, Representative James E. Rogan, Republican of California, lined up with his wife to be photographed with the president and Hillary Clinton.

When the Rogans’ turn came and they were announced, Mr. Rogan said in an interview, Mr. Clinton “kind of looked at me funny for a moment, then he let out this big sigh and gave me a huge smile and said: ‘Jim, thanks for coming. I’m really glad you’re here. Merry Christmas.’ ”

“It felt like he and I had kind of patched it up,” Mr. Rogan said. But Mrs. Clinton, who was distracted while saying goodbye to the previous guest, was not as friendly. When she finally noticed Mr. Rogan, her eyes widened with surprise, he said, and she gripped his hands tensely. “There was some iciness there and a bit of a grimace,” he said.

The encounter apparently touched a nerve at the White House. Soon after, the picture of the Rogans and the Clintons turned up in a widely read Washington newspaper column alongside an item suggesting that Mr. Rogan was hypocritical for promoting his rivalry with the Clintons in fund-raising appeals and then jockeying for a photograph with them at the White House.

Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic strategist and lobbyist with close ties to the White House who has attended holiday parties there for decades, said, “I was always surprised at the members of Congress who had adverse relationships with the president, sometimes very personal adverse relationships — either they went to the floor to impeach him or they went to the floor and called him a war criminal — but they would show up at the Christmas party with their spouse and their children in tow and pose for the picture like nothing had happened.”

There are few breaks for the Obamas in the crush of photo-line encounters. Aides make sure the president and first lady get brief moments to sip water or use a restroom, and extra padding is placed under the carpet they stand on in the Diplomatic Reception Room for added comfort. Guests are given color-coded, timed tickets telling them when to join the queue, and military social aides are on hand to move them speedily through, take their names and announce the guests when it is their turn for a portrait, captured by the official White House photographer.

“We always used to tell the president and Mrs. Bush beforehand how many clicks were to be expected that night so they would be mentally prepared,” said Amy Zantzinger, who served as Mrs. Bush’s social secretary. “What always surprised me was the person who wouldn’t move on, the person that had to tell a story or multiple stories and just would not budge.”

The military social aides also hold women’s purses, both for convenience and to discourage requests for autographs or selfies with the president.

Ann Compton, who covered the White House for 40 years for ABC News, said she almost always treated the photo as a crucial, although brief, opportunity to buttonhole the president with a question only he could answer. The exception was at the first President George Bush’s 1992 holiday party, a somber affair because he had just lost in his re-election campaign and was preparing to leave the White House.

Ms. Compton said that she and her husband had opted not to join the photo line, but that they then encountered the Bushes as they were posing with the last guests.

“Barbara Bush looked at me and said, ‘You weren’t in line,’ ” Ms. Compton recalled, “and I said, ‘Mrs. Bush, that was our Christmas present to you.’ ”

Michelle Obama shares White House holiday traditions, from decor to Mariah Carey

Want a peek at what Christmas is like in the White House? Here's a hint: It involves listening to Mariah Carey.

First Lady Michelle Obama opened up about her family's holiday traditions in the December/January issue of Ladies' Home Journal, and said that despite living in the most famous house in the world, their activities this time of year haven’t changed much.

Once the residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is decorated, Michelle, Barack, Sasha and Malia Obama spend a lot of time entertaining.

“We have a reception almost twice a day, every day, until December 21,” said the first lady. “That means hors d'oeuvres and eggnog and cookies for every guest who comes through. The house smells incredible for an entire month.”

But, she noted, the holiday snacks aren't too damaging on the first couple’s famously sleek physiques. “We're in a receiving line or a photo line, greeting people, so fortunately there's very little time for us to eat,” she said.

During the holidays, the house is filled with trees of all shapes, sizes and meanings, and Michelle mentioned that they like to pay special homage to service men and women.

“We've always dedicated the Christmas tree in the Blue Room, which has the largest tree in house, to the military families," she told the magazine. "This year we're going to decorate it with photos of military homecomings. We're also asking military families to share their traditions, and those will be reflected in the ornaments as well.”

She also said that she makes sure to set aside at least one tree for her girls to decorate: “Usually it's the tree in the Yellow Oval room. We'll have hot chocolate, light a fire no matter what the weather is, get out a basket of decorations, and then I'll put on the first holiday music of the season.”

Not surprisingly, her playlist isn’t so different from any of ours. “I have a phenomenal playlist that includes, of course, 'A Charlie Brown Christmas,' as well as James Taylor, Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, and Nat King Cole," she revealed. "The kids tease me that they know it's Christmas when I pull out my playlist.”

Michelle makes sure not to forget her humble upbringing, and has taken one tradition in particular from her modest Chicago childhood home into the present. “Our extended family was so large, people couldn't really afford to buy gifts for everyone," she recalled. "So a couple of our aunts would go out and purchase small gifts. They would put them in a basket and in order to get a gift you had to perform. Everyone from the smallest to the tallest, from the oldest to the youngest, had to perform something. You could tell a joke, read a poem, do a backflip — anything counted.”

She says in the past she’s done a trick with Bo (the Obama’s Portuguese Water dog), the girls have put on plays, and the president has been known to sing a song or two.

When it comes to gifts for the girls, Michelle says they keep it limited because, Sasha and Malia "understand that anything they need they already have.” Instead, the family focuses on giving to others and supports Toys for Tots. "I try to remind people to purchase for a broad age group — people love to buy the little kids toys, but there are also teenagers to think about. Teens love electronic learning games and you can never go wrong with giving them clothes."

As has become tradition, the Obamas will spend this Christmas in the president’s home state of Hawaii having a “peaceful day” just enjoying time with family and friends.

White House Christmas Traditions

Few first ladies enjoyed Christmas as exuberantly and creatively as did Pat Nixon. During the five holiday seasons she spent in the White House, Mrs. Nixon introduced traditions that continue to the present day. She set a standard for festooning the Executive Mansion during the holidays that every first lady since has honored and built on.

For most of the nineteenth century, first families celebrated Christmas privately and modestly, as did most Americans. The first documented Christmas tree to appear in the Executive Mansion was in 1889, when President and Mrs. Benjamin Harrison placed an evergreen in the family quarters to delight their grandchildren. It took another 23 years before a tree was placed on the State floor, during President and Mrs. Taft’s final Christmas in the White House, in December 1912.

The President and Mrs. Nixon, along with daughter Tricia, during their first Christmas in the White House. The official Christmas tree was placed in the Entrance Hall in 1969, but was returned to its customary location in the Blue Room the next year and every year thereafter.

The Richard Nixon Foundation

Christmas celebrations at the White House grew gradually over the years that followed based on personal preferences and tastes of the occupants. Mamie Eisenhower held the record for many years by installing 26 trees one year, spread across every floor of the house. In 1961, Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of selecting a theme for the Blue Room tree.

Eight years later, Pat Nixon presided over the first of the Nixons’ five presidential Christmases. As Mary Evans Seeley, a chronicler of the holidays at the White House put it, “At Christmas, the Nixons, more than any previous First Family, allowed their private home to become the most public house in America.” 1 Christmas at the Nixon White House reflected Mrs. Nixon’s commitment to make the White House more accessible to more people than ever before.

The First Lady welcomes Santa Claus to a party for the White House residence staff a week before Christmas 1973.

The Richard Nixon Foundation&nbsp

In 1971, during her third Christmas as first lady, Mrs. Nixon explained her approach to the holidays to House and Garden magazine: “Before we came to the White House, our friends always looked to us to see what surprises we were going to give them at Christmas, with our decorations, our ‘open house’ party. We’ve always tried to make Christmas special and different. At the White House we enjoy giving surprises, too.” 2 Many of those “surprises” became enduring traditions.

One of the most memorable traditions Mrs. Nixon inaugurated was the annual Candlelight Tours for the public. In announcing the tours, Mrs. Nixon said she wanted people, especially those working in Washington who would not be able to tour the House during the day, to see the Mansion “aglow with the magic and spirit of Christmas.” 3 The tours were immediately popular, drawing thousands of people each night.

Mrs. Nixon greets visitors on the steps of the North Portico during the 1972 Candlelight Tours.

The Richard Nixon Foundation

Julie Nixon Eisenhower recalled that “fires burned in the Red, Green, and Blue rooms, and the chandeliers and wall sconces were turned so low they appeared to be candles. Rotating ensembles from [armed forces bands] played Christmas carols in the Grand Foyer. The atmosphere was magical.” 4 The public Candlelight Tours became a much-loved annual tradition at the White House for more than thirty years.

Another enduring Christmas tradition Mrs. Nixon began is the White House gingerbread house. Although some previous first ladies had included a gingerbread house as part of their Christmas decorations, Mrs. Nixon made it an annual tradition which has continued uninterrupted ever since.

In 1969, at Mrs. Nixon’s request, White House Sous Chef Hans Raffert created a relatively simple, completely edible, A-frame gingerbread house. The charming confection, which was placed on a side table in the State Dining Room, weighed approximately 40 pounds.

Mrs. Nixon and daughter Julie Nixon Eisenhower appreciating the details of the 1971 White House gingerbread house.

The Richard Nixon Foundation

Over the years, the White House gingerbread house has become increasingly elaborate, as successive White House pastry teams sought to top previous year’s creations. This year’s gingerbread house includes a tableau of American landmarks, including Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty, and the Alamo, and weighs nearly 400 pounds!

Tricia Nixon Cox recently reflected on what inspired her mother’s approach to Christmas. “To my mother, Christmas meant giving more than receiving. In the White House, there’s a special setting to give back to the whole nation at Christmas time. Her innovations – the candlelight tours, the gingerbread house – evoked a simpler time in our country’s history.”

A December 1973 snowfall on the day a party was being held for the children of members of the Diplomatic Corps in Washington prompted Mrs. Nixon to start another, less permanent, tradition. At her suggestions, members of her staff built a snowman on the South Lawn just outside the entrance to the Diplomatic Reception Room, where it could be seen from the Blue Room.

The President and Mrs. Nixon on the South Lawn enjoy a snowman created by members of Mrs. Nixon's staff, December 17, 1973.

The Richard Nixon Foundation

Joni Stevens, who worked in the First Lady’s appointments office, recently remembered that day. “The snow was fine and dry not suitable for making a snowman. So we asked the groundskeepers who were plowing the south driveway to put some snow into trash cans. We added some water to that snow to make it packable.” The cheery snowman delighted all the children who attended for the party later that day.

Mrs. Nixon was also responsible for renewing an earlier tradition, which had been absent for 25 years, of placing wreaths on all the windows on the North façade of the Executive Mansion. 5 Unlike earlier years, however, the beribboned wreaths were visible both day and night, thanks to Mrs. Nixon’s successful project to light the exterior of the White House every evening for the first time in its history.

The Nixon Family poses for a portrait in front of 1971's official Christmas tree in the Blue Room. This photo is among the family's favorite family portraits from their White House years.

The Richard Nixon Foundation

According to author Alvin Rosenbaum, “Mrs. Nixon outdid her predecessors in Christmas décor, receptions, and entertainments.” 6 But Cindy Vanden Heuvel Tague, who worked in Mrs., Nixon’s office from 1970-1974, recently observed that was not what motivated Mrs. Nixon’s efforts to make Christmas at the White House truly special. “Mrs. Nixon wanted the White House at Christmas to be a warm, welcoming place – festive, friendly, with a homey feel. She wanted everyone to have a wonderful experience.”

In the fifty years since Mrs. Nixon first celebrated Christmas at the White House, each of her successors has been inspired to ensure that holiday visitors to the White House enjoy an unforgettable experience. In no small part, Pat Nixon’s Yuletide legacy continues to delight all those who visit the Mansion during this festive time of year.

Popular White House Holiday Traditions

The First White House Party

In 1800, President John Adams and First Lady Abigail Adams decided to throw a bash for their 4-year old granddaughter, Susanna, starting the White House Christmas party custom that continues to this day.

The First “Frolic”

Around the holiday season, it is common for various activities geared towards children to take place at the White House. The inspiration for these types of events came in 1835, when President Andrew Jackson organized his “frolic” for the children. This was a massive affair involving games, an extensive meal, and finished off with the grand finale – an indoor “snowball” fight using specially made cotton balls.

The First White House Tree

In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison introduced the first Christmas tree into the White House, having it elaborately decorated with toys, candy, and ornaments. Although this was the first White House tree, not all presidents have stuck with the tradition, depending on where they spend the holidays and if there are any children present.

“Green” Christmas

President Theodore Roosevelt is well-known for his love of nature and determined stance on conservation. For this reason, he did not believe in cutting down trees to be used as Christmas decoration, but went all out in other areas, perhaps to make up for this perceived lack of holiday cheer. He threw an enormous party for over 500 children with a meal, dance, party favors, and even an elaborate Santa Claus made entirely out of ice cream. Legend has it, however, that his son, Archie, still chose to sneak in a small tree for the holidays. In any case, Roosevelt is credited with starting the tradition of decorating a living fir tree on the White House grounds rather than cutting down a new tree.

“Blue” Christmas

In 1909, President William Taft and his children decorated a tree in the Blue Room. This was the first time that a tree had been decorated in a public area of the White House. This tradition continues today, as well.

The National Christmas Tree

President Calvin Coolidge took the public tree idea to another level in 1923 with the christening of the “National Christmas Tree” outside the White House in a public viewing area. Every year since, this massive evergreen has been lit, decorated, and designated as the National Tree, a tradition that has evolved over the years to include numerous other activities. The end of World War II and the Korean War were commemorated with the “Pageant of Peace”. This practice has continued, involving a solid month of festivities kicked off by the lighting of the tree. The “Pathway to Peace” refers to the walkway surrounding the National Christmas Tree which features 56 trees from each state and territory, all uniquely decorated and available for viewing by the public.

A Nutcracker Christmas

The very first themed White House tree was created in 1961 by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, who chose to go with a Nutcracker motif. Choosing a theme has been standard practice ever since.

Happy Hanukkah

President Jimmy Carter became the first president to recognize this Jewish holiday when he lit the menorah during the Pageant of Peace in 1979, something that has continued as part of the annual White House holiday schedule.

Trees by the Dozen

In 1959, President Eisenhower set the bar for Christmas spirit by installing no less than 26 trees throughout every floor of the White House. This record was later shattered, however, by the Clinton administration’s whopping 36 trees in 1997 for a Santa’s workshop theme. It was also during Eisenhower’s tenure that NORAD’s Santa Tracker (North American Aerospace Defense Command) got its start.

Feeling the holiday spirit? Make sure to check out these other holiday articles from the Sporcle blog.

30 Unique Christmas Traditions to Start With Your Family This Year

There's a reason the holiday season tends to evoke such warm and fuzzy feelings: It's one of the few times during the year where we press pause on the hustle and bustle of the always-on world we live in, and those who celebrate gather with loved ones to partake in time-honored Christmas traditions. Some people's must-do Christmas activities include watching Hallmark movies, whereas others bake family recipes and wintry desserts while playing festive tunes. But if you're seeking a new custom to add to your itinerary, there are countless ideas both old and new to adopt for the first time this year. Though many of the oldest Christmas traditions from around the world in countries like France, Germany, and England are still prevalent today (caroling and markets, for example), there's also an abundance of fun modern options (like wearing matching pajamas and doing a cookie swap with pals). And while the holidays may look a little different in 2020, every tradition listed here can be made social distancing-friendly.

Whether you're looking for traditions to start with a baby or just want to make the season feel extra special this year, here are 30 options for kids, couples, and chosen family of all kinds. No matter how you choose to celebrate, these little rituals add an element of intimacy that's part of what makes December 24 and December 25&mdashand the weeks leading up to it&mdashmagical for so many. These sweet and unique ideas are sure to leave you with fond memories.

Easy Christmas Cookie Recipes

Waited until the last minute to bake your holiday cookies? Don't worry! These festive treats are easy to make — and will spread plenty of Yuletide cheer.

Related To:

Photo By: Renee Comet ©© 2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

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Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Tara Donne ©Tara Donne

Photo By: Jon Paterson/Studio D

Eggnog Blossoms

Consider these cookies the perfect little bite of Christmas, all wrapped up in one tasty treat!

Eggnog Meltaway Cookies

These powdery snowball-shaped treats melt in your mouth create a sugary mashup of nutmeg, rum, and bourbon. Yum!

Holiday Swirled Sugar Cookies

A vibrant twist to your standard sugar cookie: The elegant icing swirls and smooth, glossy finish will remind you of a pepperminty candy cane.

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

The only way to make this chocolate delight any better? Aromas of espresso and snowy, crackled powdered sugar!

Chewy Sugar Cookies

Cream your butter and sugar until they're very light and fluffy to get a great consistency for these quick-cooking sugar cookies.

Sandra Lee's Macadamia-Coconut Cookie

Sandra wishes every holiday cookie was as easy to make as these tropical-inspired sweets (that start with store-bought sugar cookie dough). "The hardest part," Sandra says, "is eating just one!"

Coconut Macaroons

Simple, decadent and made in just 35 minutes, Ina's Coconut Macaroons make a great take-along treat.

White Chocolate Confetti Christmas Cookies

Bring the holiday cheer with these festive cookies. They're exploding with sprinkles and yummy drizzled white chocolate.

Ultimate Ginger Cookie

Ina's cookies are filled with spices: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger, plus chopped crystallized ginger. A coating of sugar before baking gives them a crinkly crust.

Chocolate Coconut Balls

Anne's Pignoli Cookies

Pignoli cookies may be standard at any Italian bakery but they're actually simple to make at home. Mix them in one bowl and they're ready in less than an hour. Anne Burrell's special touch? A bit of honey.


Who wouldn't love a cookie that's set with a good dose of cinnamon-sugar but still nice and soft in the center?

Cornmeal Wreaths

These golden wreaths give the perfect amount of holiday spirit with their sweet taste and playful appearance.

Sunny's German Chocolate Cake Cookies

Butterscotch-Walnut Cookies

Crispy cookies with butterscotch and walnut fillings are the best way to treat yourself on a cold winter day!

Throwdown Chocolate Chip Cookies

White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies

Peanut Butter Cookies

These peanut butter-filled cookies are creamed together all in one bowl. What could be easier than that?

Macadamia-Almond Christmas Cookies

Feeling a little nutty this Christmas? Add that into your baked goods for some crunchy yumminess with a macadamia and almond combo!

Holiday Haystacks

Get festive with this cute and creative treat! Gather your traditional dessert ingredients and experiment with chow mein noodles for the layered structure. Pouring the melted chocolate and the holiday sprinkles over the cookie is what really seals the deal.

Super Yummy Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies

Anne is a dark-chocolate fan so she chops it up with walnuts to make these oatmeal cookies nice and chunky. Top them with a sprinkle of sea salt to give them a little something special.

Cinnamon-Spiced Hot Chocolate Cookies

The best alternative to your favorite winter drink? Hot Cocoa Cookies, of course! They've got cinnamon spice wrapped in a chocolatey cookie (perfected with a bonus of tasty almonds and dulce de leche).

Blondie with Dark Roots

Guy folds hazelnuts, coconut and chocolate chips into his blondie batter for an easy, but delicious, treat. Simply spread the batter into a pan, bake for 40 minutes and cool before slicing into individual squares.

Traditional English RecipesTasty English Food For You to Cook

Most traditional English recipes have a long and eventful history. Some were passed down through generations of cooks, others were chance inventions that were so well liked that many cooks took them up and made them classics. This section of the site is my collection of things I've found and tried and loved.

There are recipes for an English breakfast, which is much more than bacon and eggs or toast on the run.

Soups are true soul food. They can be uplifting or soothing, calming or invigorating. They are easy to make and can feed a crowd, while Salads can turn a summer afternoon picnic into a stylish eating experience.

Sandwiches are a great English invention that's sadly been overtaken by the supermarkets. But make your own and you will really know the wonders of a good sandwich, whether you eat it at your desk or outside on the lawn as part of a picnic.

Tasty, warming, comforting . a good dinner should be all of these and we have a vast number of traditional English recipes that fit the bill perfectly.

Puddings are an English love affair. Summer desserts are light, fruity and just right for being eaten outside in the sunshine. And come winter, we look for more warming, comforting fare, to steamed puddings, baked puddings, warming crumbles and apple pie.

Drinking tea is an institution in England. And for most people, just a cuppa just won't do. There has to be something alongside it: a biscuit, a slice of cake, a bun or a scone. And just like baking, jam making, pickling and preserving are real kitchen pleasures, because the results of your labours are around for weeks if not months to be enjoyed.

While everyone can name at least three English drinks, what about all the others? The old-fashioned tried and tested ones? What about mulled wine, shandy gaff, claret cup, sloe gin, mead, a bowl of punch or a glass of cherry brandy?

Christmas without its myriad of traditional recipes just wouldn't be Christmas. Check out all the traditional favourites like mince pies, christmas pudding, mulled wine, chestnut soup and more in my Christmas food section.

And finally, there are sections for apple recipes, mincemeat recipes, asparagus dishes and recipes for the most maligned of all vegetables: Brussels Sprouts. Over time, I'm sure there'll be more. I love researching recipes - unusual ones, traditional ones and local ones - and I'm frequently adding new recipes to this list. Click on the images to move right to the section you're interested in . or browse at leisure through this tasty selection of traditional English recipes.

The best and worst White House Christmas displays

There is nothing like Christmas at the White House. Each winter, America's first family looks to both pay tribute to decades of presidential tradition while also staking out a display all their own — sometimes to varying success.

This is how 14 first ladies prepared for the most wonderful time of the year.

14. Betty Ford, 1975

(Library of Congress)

You can't fault a woman for the decade she has to decorate in. First lady Betty Ford, who lived in the White House through the heart of the 1970s, wasn't exactly fortunate when it came to holiday trends: Think tinsel. Lots and lots of tinsel. Still, despite the unfortunate tackiness of the era, Ford could have avoided some missteps in her "Children's Christmas"-themed White House in 1975 — just look at that sad, skinny Santa Claus! And put some lights or ornaments on that Christmas tree — anything!

13. Eleanor Roosevelt, 1939

(AP Photo)

President Franklin Roosevelt spent some 10 Christmases in the White House, which would admittedly be an exhausting amount of Christmases to have to decorate the mansion for (the president's final two holidays of his 12 years in office were held at the family's home in Hyde Park). Seeing as it was the end of the Great Depression, it is understandable that Eleanor Roosevelt did not go overboard with extravagance in 1939, although that does nothing to forgive the abominable lametta on her tree.

12. Melania Trump, 2018

The People’s House @WhiteHouse is ready to celebrate Christmas and the holiday season!

— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) November 26, 2018

First lady Melania Trump has not found tremendous success decorating the White House just yet (remember her ominous grove of dead trees from last year?). This year's arboreal blunder comes in the form of red evergreen trees, which are unnervingly evocative of the bloodthirsty red weed from War of the Worlds. While she gets points for being bold and thinking outside the box, you never want a Christmas display in which the Twin Peaks brain tree would fit right in.

11. Michelle Obama, 2016

Michelle Obama's last Christmas in the White House was a mishmash of themes, colors, and Portuguese water dogs. While the enormous replicas of Bo and Sunny are cute, they aren't exactly Christmasy. Obama also went overboard with American flag references, which felt out of place beside the wintery displays. Save red, white, and blue for July.

10. Frances Folsom Cleveland Preston, 1898

(The White House Historical Association)

The Cleveland family Christmas tree was the first to have electric light bulbs, although they did nothing to take away from the nostalgic feel of Frances Cleveland's Oval Room display. With the window wreathes and a gorgeous old nativity set adding cheery touches, the whole picture comes together looking downright Dickensian. Still, those dolls are creepy.

9. Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson, 1967

(AP Photo)

Lady Bird Johnson might not have had the flashiest White House holiday decor, but she did have the coziest. Her display looks so welcoming and natural that you half expect there to be a present for you waiting under the tree. While that's all well and good for any other home in America, this is the White House, and the Johnsons are docked for their overall lack of pomp. Good dog, though.

8. Mamie Eisenhower, 1958

(AP Photo/Bill Allen, File)

Mamie "Mrs. Christmas" Eisenhower was an enthusiastic decorator, and in 1958 she erected 27 trees throughout the White House, not a one of them fake. Unfortunately, reports that she was also an enthusiastic dispenser of tinsel and white spray paint (alas, there are reportedly no color photographs of the whole affair). Perhaps Eisenhower's greatest fault of all, though, was piping Christmas carols into every room of the White House. Yes, yes, we get you love Christmas, but make it stop!

7. Hillary Clinton, 2000

Hillary Clinton's Christmas decor was a lot, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Favoring a green-and-gold color scheme, Clinton's decor in 2000 had a grandmothery feel about it, which was both comforting and festive. Fittingly, her theme was "Holiday Reflections," and her displays contained elements of "the seven [previous] Christmas themes of the Clinton administration." Although the resulting stocking bonanza might be too much for some people, what can I say — I'm a maximalist.

6. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, 1961

(AP Photo/Henry Burroughs)

Jackie Kennedy was the picture of elegance, and her White House at Christmastime came to match. Her tasteful Nutcracker-themed Blue Room tree launched the tradition of themed Christmases in the White House, and what a note to start on — strung with light blue ribbon and dangling figurines, the Balsam fir evoked Peter Tchaikovsky's ballet. Notably, Kennedy dispensed with Eisenhower's enthusiastic use of tinsel.

5. Pat Nixon, 1969

Pat Nixon strived for "elegance, beauty, and grace" in her White House decorations, and she didn't fall short. Her refined decorating proved that a little could go a long way — say, a green bow on an Irish setter or simple red pillars. She also launched one of the most beloved White House holiday traditions: the enormous gingerbread house.

4. Barbara Bush, 1990

Barbara Bush loved a good poinsettia, and extended the rich red theme to every room in the 1990 White House. But perhaps the best part about her display was her enthusiasm over every little detail — as she led the press tour, she repeatedly implored the photographers to get close and really look at the handicraft of her staff. Even the presidential plumber contributed a white castle made of pipes. Not a detail was overlooked even Millie got a red bow on her collar.

3. Rosalynn Carter, 1978

Rosalynn Carter had a mildly terrifying tree of dolls in the 1978 White House, but if you can put aside that creepiness, you might appreciate the old-timey look of her Christmas display (even the Carters' Christmas card was a throwback to the days of yore). Of all the nostalgic decorations employed by first ladies over the years, Carter's is the most impressive, with a marigold sting of pompoms nicely tying together with the window drapes, and generally making the whole room feel warm. Additionally, like many other White House families, Carter made the reason for the season a prominent part of her decor: just look at that fabulous, towering nativity.

2. Laura Bush, 2007

You've got to hand it to the Bush family they sure know how to decorate for Christmas. Laura Bush took a page out of first lady Hillary Clinton's playbook with the gold and green palette in 2007, but made it all her own. While the natural-looking theme was a risk — Bush chose to represent "Holiday in the National Parks" that year — the understated beauty works, with the fluffy piles of "snow" on the bows of the trees and wreathes making it feel like you were outdoors. The Christmas cookies, of course, were in the shape of animals you could find in the parks.

1. Nancy Reagan, 1987

(AP Photo/Barry Thumma)

No one did Christmas quite like Nancy Reagan. From hanging out with ALF to throwing fake snowballs with Dom DeLuise to sitting on the lap of Mr. T, Reagan embraced her role as the conductor of the White House Christmas. The first lady's childlike excitement about the holidays got at the heart of what Christmas is all about in fact, you could frequently find Nancy sprawled out among the children, enjoying the entertainment. In her 1987 display, she had a music-themed Blue Room tree, although perhaps the best room was one in which eight towering evergreens were adorned with silver lights and surrounded by soft drifts of fake snow. "The room is warm, but it feels like it's snowing," DeLuise told the press in awe. Now that's Christmas magic.


A Passover Seder is a ritual meal held by Jews on the first two nights of the Passover holiday (first night only in Israel). The Seder is traditionally conducted in the home by the family and their invited guests, although it may also be held by any group of Jews, such as members of a synagogue, condominium complex, student group, army base, etc. At the Seder, participants read the Haggadah, a ritual text recounting the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. The reading is accompanied by visual aids in the form of the symbolic foods on the Passover Seder Plate. A festive meal is part of the ritual. [1] [2] While religious Jewish law places certain restrictions on a non-Jew eating at a Seder, [3] non-traditional Jews often invite non-Jews to their Seders, and non-Jews also conduct Seders of their own, [4] although the latter practice is highly controversial. [5] [6] [7]

The White House Passover Seder had its origins in an informal Passover Seder conducted on April 19, 2008, by three junior staff members of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama's campaign. At the time, Obama and his campaign team were in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in advance of the Pennsylvania primary, and the Jewish staffers realized they would not be able to go home to be with their families on Seder night. The three staffers – Eric Lesser, Herbie Ziskend, and Arun Chaudhary – obtained a "Passover kit" with wine, matzo, macaroons, and Haggadahs from the Hillel House at the University of Pennsylvania and were conducting a late-night Seder in a meeting room of the Sheraton Hotel in Harrisburg when Obama walked in. "Hey, is this the Seder?" Obama asked. He and a group of aides, all non-Jews, joined in to recite the Haggadah. Obama was familiar with the ritual, having attended Passover Seders for the previous nine years. At the end of the Seder, when the assembled said the traditional wish, "Next year in Jerusalem", Obama added, "Next year in the White House". [8] [9]

The following year, with Obama elected president and his junior staffers working in the White House, Obama encouraged the group to hold the Seder again. [8] The 2009 event was the first time that a sitting U.S. president conducted a Passover Seder in the White House. [8] [10] [11] The White House switchboard was reportedly swamped with callers seeking a dinner invitation. [12] The White House Seder was scheduled for the second night of Passover to allow Jewish staffers to spend the first Seder on the first night of Passover with their families. [11] About 20 guests sat around a table in the Old Family Dining Room reading the Haggadah and sampling the traditional Seder foods. Malia and Sasha Obama, being the youngest in attendance, recited the Four Questions [13] and engaged in the search for the afikoman. [9]

Obama hosted the White House Passover Seder for all eight years of his administration. [14] Among the annual traditions for the White House Seder were Obama's imitation of Pharaoh, Chaudhary's speech on the Hillel sandwich, and the hiding of the afikoman under the watchful eye of a Secret Service member. [8] [13] The Seder convened in the Old Family Dining Room and lasted for two hours. [15] During Obama's last year in office in 2016, the Seder was held on April 26, [14] the sixth day of Passover, due to Obama's previously scheduled visit to Saudi Arabia on the first and second nights of Passover. [16]

During a visit to Israel in 2013, Obama stated that he brought the Passover Seder to the White House to acquaint his daughters with the story of the Exodus, whose themes resonated with his personal beliefs. [17] [10] He said:

To African Americans, the story of the Exodus was perhaps the central story, the most powerful image about emerging from the grip of bondage to reach for liberty and human dignity – a tale that was carried from slavery through the Civil Rights Movement into today. For me, personally, growing up in far-flung parts of the world and without firm roots, the story spoke to a yearning within every human being for a home. [10]

The White House Seder participants, many of them African Americans, were cognizant of the similarities between the story of the Israelites' Exodus from Egypt and the American civil rights movement. The themes of social justice, struggle, and freedom were often evoked during discussion at the meal. [8] At the point in the ritual when the prophet Elijah is welcomed to the meal, the guests recited the Emancipation Proclamation. [8]

The choice of serving pieces was also symbolic. In 2009, the group used silverware from the Truman administration, remembering Truman as the first President to recognize Israel. [8] In 2013, Israel First Lady Sara Netanyahu gave as a gift a Seder Plate, which was used each year at the dinner. [8] [17] Those in attendance read from the Maxwell House Haggadah, which is widely used in Jewish homes. [17] [13]

The menu at the White House Passover Seder featured traditional American Jewish Passover cuisine such as gefilte fish, charoset, chicken soup with matzah balls, brisket, potato kugel, and macaroons. [13] [18] Salads and vegetable side dishes completed the menu. [18] Lesser brought handmade shmurah matzah from the Chabad-Lubavitch center in Springfield, Massachusetts. [19] Family recipes were emphasized: in 2015, these recipes included matzo ball soup from Ziskend's grandmother, carrot soufflé from Lesser's mother, and Raspberry Ganache Marjolaine from Chaudhary's mother. [18] Recipes covered foods from both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic traditions. [18] The food was not strictly kosher, but kosher style. [20] In 2014, the White House Passover Seder began inviting a guest chef to coordinate the menu with the White House executive chef. [18]

Unlike the White House Hanukkah Party, Obama's White House Passover Seder was not a political event. The guest list did not include rabbinical figures, Jewish lobbyists, members of Congress, or Israeli representatives. [8] [17] The guest list of approximately 20 remained basically the same each year. [13] Attendees included the president and his family, members of the president's and first lady's staff and their families, and friends of the Obamas, with a mix of Jews and non-Jews. [17]

In April 1993 staffers of President Clinton conducted a Passover Seder in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, in the absence of the President. [11] [21]

On April 10, 2017, the first night of Passover, several Trump Administration staffers conducted a Seder in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, but unlike during the Obama Administration, neither President Trump nor his family members attended the ritual. [22] [23]

Watch the video: Rabbi David Wolpe. Rosh Hashanah Day 1 (August 2022).