About Christmas at the Residence
Many of Tennessee's first families have celebrated the holiday season at the Tennessee Residence throughout the years; however, each first family has celebrated unique traditions to ring in this special time of year. During Christmastime, receptions for Cabinet, staff, docents and the press have been a longstanding tradition at the Residence carried on by many Governors and First Ladies, including Alexander, Sundquist, Dunn, Haslam and Lee.
Traditions of the First Families
Many administrations have worked with talented decorators and designers from across the state and the Nashville area, some of whom have also taken part in decorating the White House for Christmas, to bring to life the first families' vision for holiday décor in the historic home.
Governor and First Lady Blanton hosted the first Christmas open house at the Far Hills home on a Sunday afternoon in 1975 during their first holiday season in office. The focal point of the Yuletide décor that year was an eighteen-foot Scotch pine tree which was set up in the foyer between the columns.
Governor and First Lady Sundquist continued the tradition of opening up the home to Tennesseans at Christmastime, offering two receptions for citizens interested in seeing the Residence decorated for the season. Mrs. Sundquist counted over one thousand punch cups used during the two receptions, as over 1,000 visitors viewed the décor and posed for photos with the then Governor and First Lady. The special feature of those 1997 Christmas decorations was a tree festooned with bears, tiny carousels, dolls and baby shoes in honor of the Sundquists’ then six-month old granddaughter, Gabrielle.
Following the close of the Residence for renovations during Governor Bredesen’s time in office, Governor and First Lady Haslam resumed opening the Tennessee Residence to visitors during the Christmas season by offering holiday tours free to the public for two weeks in December.
First Lady Haslam also commissioned artists from each of Tennessee’s 95 counties to create an ornament collection representing each county in the state’s three grand divisions. These ornaments were on display in the inglenook of the Tennessee Residence for the remainder of holiday seasons during the Haslam administration.
In 2019, First Lady Lee followed suit, giving 95 additional creatives an opportunity to paint an ornament representing their county. This collection has been displayed in the Residence as well as Tennessee’s State Capitol, and each ornament is available to view in detail here.
Christmas with the Lee Administration
Governor and First Lady Lee have been honored to carry on the tradition of hosting the public for Christmas tours at the Tennessee Executive Residence. With the exception of December 2020, when state buildings were closed to the public due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Lees have hosted holiday open houses each year they have been in office. Since 2020, the Lees have produced virtual adaptations of each Christmas tour for Tennesseans across the state and the world to experience the magic of the holiday season at the Tennessee Residence online. View the decorations of Christmases past here.
A particularly meaningful feature of the Christmas décor during the Lee administration has been First Lady Lee’s Nonprofit Trees featured in the Conservation Hall atrium. Each year, five nonprofits from across the state that serve varied populations are invited to the Tennessee Residence to decorate a Christmas tree that represents their organization and the people and community they serve. Guests that attend the open house tours are asked to bring a donation of requested items to benefit the nonprofit organizations. First Lady Lee’s Tennessee Serves initiative distributes the gifts to each nonprofit following the close of holiday tours, and the joy of the season is magnified through the generous Tennesseans who participate.
Christmas décor during the Lee administration has featured many donations or loaned materials and exhibits from Tennessee businesses, museums, makers and agencies, representing Tennesseans and communities all across the state. Since 2019, Governor and First Lady Lee have worked with a talented group of volunteer designers to bring the vision of each year’s décor theme to life in the state’s historic home. With a special focus on the true meaning of Christmas and filling the Residence with the peace and glory of the Lord, First Lady Lee and her team partner with the design committee to create a beautiful and impactful experience for tour guests and visitors to the Residence during the month of December.
Lee Administration Christmas Themes
- 2019: "Songs of the Season"
- 2020: "Christmas through the Ages"
- 2021: "A Storybook Christmas"
- 2022: "The Gift of Giving"
- 2023: "Heaven and Nature Sing"