"Holiday Tree" Instead of Christmas Tree at the White House This Year?

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2014 White House Christmas Tree
The 2014 White House Christmas tree. Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The viral message claims the Obamas will have "holiday trees" instead of Christmas trees in the White House, and religious-themed ornaments are forbidden.

Description: Online rumor
Circulating since July 2009
Status: False (details below)

Email text contributed by an AOL user, August 2, 2009:

Hello all,
Thought you might be interested in this information from the White House. This isn't a rumor; this is a fact.
We have a friend at church who is a very talented artist. For several years she, among many others, has painted ornaments to be hung on the various White House Christmas trees. The WH sends out an invitation to send an ornament and informs the artists of the theme for the year.
She got her letter from the WH recently. It said that they would not be called Christmas trees this year. They will be called Holiday trees. And, to please not send any ornaments painted with a religious theme.
She was very upset at this development and sent back a reply telling them that she painted the ornaments for Christmas trees and would not be sending any for display that left Christ out of Christmas.
Just thought you should know what the new residents in the WH plan for the future of America. If you missed his statement that "we do not consider ourselves a Christian Nation" this should confirm that he plans to take us away from our religious foundation as quickly as possible.

2015 update: The 2015 holiday season at the White House officially began on Nov. 27 as Michelle Obama received this year's Christmas tree.

2014 update: Michelle Obama and daughters took delivery of this year's official Christmas tree on Nov. 28.

2013 update: The 2013 White House Christmas tree, an 18 1/2-foot high and nearly 11-foot wide Douglas fir, was delivered to the First Lady on Nov. 29.

2012 update: The 2012 White House Christmas tree, clearly labeled as such, was delivered to Michelle Obama at the North Portico of the White House on Nov. 23, 2012.

2011 update: As of November 2011, this two-year-old email is circulating yet again. It did not suddenly become true in the intervening months. The White House Christmas tree, clearly marked as such, was delivered to Michelle Obama on Nov. 25.

2010 update: As of December 2010, the same-year-old email was circulating again, identically worded but now titled "White House Will Not Do Christmas," "No Christmas Tree in the White House This Year," etc.  It's still false.

Analysis: [2009] The viral message is completely false. Apart from an announcement last August that an 18- to 19-foot Fraser fir from Shepherdstown, West Virginia will serve as the official White House Christmas TreeChristmas tree, please note, not "holiday tree" — there have been no revelations to date regarding First Lady Michelle Obama's plans for decorating the Executive Mansion for the 2009 holidays.

Moreover, we have only this one anonymous, secondhand account to support the claim that artists who have contributed White House Christmas ornaments in the past were invited to do so again in 2009 and told to limit their submissions to non-religious designs. This is doubtful, if for no other reason than that it does not appear to be the case that the same artists are asked to contribute from one year to the next. In 2008, for example, Laura Bush asked each member of Congress to select an artist from their home district; in 2007, each National Park site was asked to designate a local artist; in 2006, submissions were restricted to craft artisans; and so on.

In any case, White House sources say that as yet no invitations have been sent out to ornament makers for 2009.

White House Christmas Tree vs. Capitol Christmas Tree

It's possible these rumors surrounding the White House Christmas tree were sparked by a controversy surrounding decorative guidelines for a different official tree, the Capitol Christmas Tree, which is displayed every holiday season on the West Front lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Each year the federal government selects a different state to supply a 50- to 85-foot-tall Capitol Tree and several dozen smaller specimens for distribution around Washington, D.C., and citizens of the chosen state are invited to contribute handmade ornaments.

Religious-themed ornaments were banned during Bush administration

In 2009, objections were raised when it was noted that the Capitol Christmas Tree guidelines stipulated that ornaments contributed by citizens "may not reflect religious or political themes." Threatening the first-amendment lawsuit, Christian and conservative groups called on the U.S. Forest Service, which sponsors the program, to rescind the ban.

According to a Forest Service spokesman quoted by ABC News, the language prohibiting religious themes came from "old information" on the Capitol Tree website. That information has since been revised.

In point of fact, online documents show that a ban on religious-themed ornaments was in effect during the Bush administration (2007 and 2008), though, curiously, no religious groups objected at the time.

Sources and further reading:

Arizona Students Create Holiday Decorations Amid Controversy
ABC15.com, 2 October 2009

Guess Who's Now Banned from Capitol Christmas Tree!
WorldNetDaily.com, 1 October 2009

A Red, White and Blue Christmas
CBS News, 3 December 2008

Last updated 11/29/15