I want a pink Christmas!

I volunteered at the American Red Cross fundraiser, Project: Prom Dress, today at the Dancel Family Y in Ellicott City.  Situated at the check-out table, I had a great view of the dresses as they made their way back and forth between the boutique area (in the gym) and the dressing room (in the exercise room) to the check-out rack.  The dresses were donated, and most were very modern, but I admit to a secret admiration for not-very-trendy pink dresses.  One dress (both candy pink and polka dotted) went out late in the day with a young lady who looked far too young to be attending a prom.  She explained that the pink dress was going to be a costume in her middle school play because she needed to be dressed in a tacky 80’s style prom dress.  Ugh.  Yes, my senior high prom gown, lovingly created by my mother (at my request), featured pink, pink, pink with a darker pink lace overskirt.

Only tangentially related, to round out our Presidential Christmas posts, I’d like to highlight Mamie Eisenhower’s trendsetting use of pink in the White House, and, actually, in all of her homes. As the wife of a military officer, she had the opportunity to decorate many homes (over 30 moves during his 37-year military career) and is reported to have carried samples of the pink, green and cream colors that she used in her decorating.  In that way, the painters could match the paint to her belongings.

From 1953 – 1961, the Eisenhower White House was called the “Pink Palace.”  Although there is no record of pink Christmas trees, there is a sure connection to the skyrocketing rise in pink decorating in the late 1950’s.  There are scores of retro websites devoted to the love of pink bathrooms, a decorating fever that started with Mamie’s personal style.  This time period is also the advent of the aluminum Christmas tree, with Sears and other department stores featuring the aluminum tree in a number of colors, including silver, orange, and pink.  Although our family didn’t have an aluminum tree, the old photographs of children standing next to aluminum trees in the 1960’s look suspiciously like a childhood me.

In A Charlie Brown Christmas (1963), Lucy tells Charlie to get an aluminum tree, perhaps painted pink.  The segment of the film featuring the garish aluminum trees is one of my favorites.  The ridicule of the aluminum tree and the commercialization of Christmas in that film considered one indicator that aluminum trees were on their way out of style, but they continued to be manufactured into the 1970’s.

A 2004 book, Season’s Gleamings: The Art of the Aluminum Christmas Tree by Lindemann and Shimon, is next on my list of Christmas “must reads.”  Appropriately, the cover is pink.  Anyone have a copy to lend? (If you don’t want to confess in public, email me.)

A Happy President for Christmas

From 1953 to 1961 the White House was home to President Eisenhower and his family.  This was a relatively happy and peaceful time in the US.  World War II and the conflict in Korea had ended, the unrest of Vietnam and Civil Rights were not yet upon us.  It was a time of prosperity.  The Eisenhower White House reflected this, especially at Christmas.  It was common practice for the President to host two parties at the holidays.  One for the political staff in the West Wing and another for the household staff of the White House.  Race practices of the time played a part in the separation.  The Eisenhowers were the first to hold a single party.  Mrs. Eisenhower supervised the plans the included over 500 guests!  Mamie was a Christmas devotee and wanted the day to be special for all.  She personally shopped at Washington department stores to purchase gifts and then hand wrapped them herself.  This was also to save money.  Mrs. Eisenhower took decorating to an all time high for the residence.  She had a record (at the time) 27 decorated trees.  Holiday music was played in every room and all the columns on the house were wrapped in greens.

1957 Eisenhower Christmas card

The Love of Christmas was not for Mamie alone.  President Eisenhower also enjoyed the holiday.  Ike was an avid artist and enjoyed creating Christmas cards and prints to be used by the White House.  In the eight years they lived there, the Eisenhowers used 38 different artist images for cards and gifts- a record number for any time.  The Eisenhower cards serve as a great piece of memorabilia from the time.

The connection between the Eisenhowers and Christmas continues today.  The Eisenhower National Historic site located in Gettysburg, PA hosts the annual event “An Eisenhower Christmas”.  The National Park Service hosts this annual event each December.  Visitors to the home see the house decorated as it would have been during the presidential years in the 50s.  The house is open to the public (entrance fees in 2011 were $7.50) and there are regional bus tours organized to visit the home.  It was even listed on the Frederick calendar of holiday events this past Christmas.  I will definitely be checking it out this December!