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Christmas at the White House

Today would have been Lady Bird Johnson’s 100th birthday. In honor of her and the season, we wanted to share one of Lady Bird’s Christmas recollections, as told to Michael Gillette in Lady Bird Johnson: An Oral History.


As the first Christmas at the ranch approached, it was wonderful in a way, but we really hadn’t gotten the house fixed up very much. But we put a wreath on the front gate. We had all the family, and Lyndon assumed the role of paterfamilias. I guess it was just a few days before Christmas that we got everybody out there. Of course, the queen of the occasion—for Lyndon and for me, too—was his mama, but from the remaining children of Lyndon’s father’s siblings, all of those that were still living were there. There were at least three generations there. I think there were twenty-one of us in all. Lyndon sat at the big table that had arrived. All the leaves were put in. We had rolls of pictures made.

Did this family gathering reminded him of earlier ones when he was a youth growing up?

Oh, you know it had to be, and I’m sure that was exactly why he wanted to do it. He remembered all of those, and he wanted to assume the role and gather the clan. I just wish I had done better by it and had had the house all aglow with flowers and fat, comfortable furniture. There was our rather bedraggled-looking Christmas tree, which the children and I actually decorated together. It didn’t profit too much from our inexpert fingers. Then we took pictures by the front door, which had a wreath on it, too. It was a big picture-taking session, and I cherish every one.

My own family came to spend Thanksgiving with us at the ranch in 1953. Daddy and his wife, Ruth; my brother Tommy; and Sarah, his wife. Tony, the one with whom I felt the closet affinity of all, and Matiana. There were our children, sitting down crossed-legged, on the grounds in front of us, in the front yard of the ranch. I’m a little bit too plump, which doesn’t speak well for me. There’s a warmth in looking back and seeing Tommy’s and Tony’s faces, even if it is the occasion of a great big deer hunt and they have their kill propped up in front of them, and in seeing Daddy with his three children by the fi replace. I’m glad they shared this old house with us some.

Michael L. Gillette directed the LBJ Library’s Oral History Program from 1976 to 1991. He later served as director of the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives and is currently the executive director of Humanities Texas in Austin. He is the author of Lady Bird Johnson: An Oral History and Launching the War on Poverty: An Oral History.

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Image credit: From the Lady Bird Johnson: An Oral History, Original in the LBJ Library. Public domain.

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