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2017: The shape of the ornament honoring Franklin D. Roosevelt evokes a tabletop radio—like those that broadcast the president’s “fireside chats” into American homes. Roosevelt’s beloved dog, Fala, sits near the Christmas tree, with the gifts. Four stars toward the top of the ornament represent Roosevelt’s historic four terms as president, and the chevron border recalls the design of the card case he carried.

This Christmas, the White House Will Celebrate FDR

Honoring a different president each year has become a White House holiday tradition.

This story appears in the December 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine.

In 1929 a fire broke out on Christmas Eve in the White House during a party for children. As flames licked the walls of West Wing offices, 130 firefighters arrived and extinguished the blaze. The next year, President Herbert Hoover sent toy fire trucks to some of his young guests.

Anecdotes like these often inspire the design of the White House Christmas Ornament—a festive annual tribute to past presidents and events, conceived during the Reagan administration and managed by the White House Historical Association. Since 1982 the holiday decorations have honored each president sequentially, with brief pauses to recognize significant occasions such as the White House bicentennial anniversary in 2000.

More than a million ornaments are sold each year, with proceeds going toward publishing educational books and restoring presidential artifacts. “It’s not political,” says Dave Marquis, who runs the firm that has manufactured all 37 ornaments. “It’s about celebrating the House itself, and the men who served.”