They were the cards that were never sent. In 1963, US President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, put in an order for 750 Hallmark Christmas cards. They were average-sized – four-and-a-half inches by six-and-a-half inches – with a color photograph of an 18th-century Neapolitan crèche that had been on display in the East Room of the White House.
While they were intended to be sent out to loved ones and colleagues, that never happened, as JFK was assassinated while on a trip to Dallas, Texas that November.
A gorgeous Christmas card design
The Kennedy family’s Christmas card was the first time a religious symbol had been placed on one sent from the White House. The Neopolitan crèche had gone on display when Loretta Hines Howard, an artist and collector of religious figures, installed it within a niche in the East Room, against a backdrop of gold curtains. The figures of men, women, angels, animals and cherubs that depicted the Nativity scene were arranged in a pyramid shape, representing an evergreen tree.
The inside of the card featured an embossed seal of a bald eagle holding an olive branch in one talon and arrows in the other – the country’s seal – with a message that read, “With our wishes for a Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.” Some, however, only wished the recipient a “Happy New Year.”
Mourning the loss of John F. Kennedy
John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy had signed just 30 cards before taking a break to plan for an important trip across a number of American cities, including Dallas, where he would lose his life. The cards were never sent and have become a poignant reminder of a presidency cut short and a family traumatized.
Prior to JFK‘s assassination, the Kennedy family had intended to spend Christmas in Palm Beach, Florida, visiting the president’s parents and siblings. Instead, Jacqueline mourned for her husband while trying to find a home for herself and her two children. In early December, she moved back to Georgetown with John, Jr. and Caroline.
The Christmas cards have become prized memorabilia
Despite never being set, the unsigned cards are available through Kennedy memorabilia sites for nearly $1,000 a piece, although they are often unavailable. According to Reuters, less than two dozen of the dual-signed ones were known to exist in 2007. One sold for $45,000 at a 2006 auction, having come from the estate of the family’s personal secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, who some say destroyed most of the Christmas cards.
In 2007, during the George W. Bush presidency, one of the stops of the White House holiday decorations tour was a collection of Christmas cards sent by previous presidents and first ladies. Noticeably missing was the 1963 Kennedy card, out of respect for the family.
After Lyndon B. Johnson took over as president, he and his wife didn’t want to send out cards. However, the State Department’s protocol officer insisted he carry on the tradition, which was started by Calvin Coolidge in 1927. A very simple white card with the presidential seal on the cover and a thin red strip at the bottom was printed and copies were sent to foreign ministers, top-ranking officials and the heads of governments.
Jacqueline Kennedy received cards of condolence
Jacqueline Kennedy attempted to deal with the thousands of holiday cards and condolence letters sent to her by the American public. She also carried through with giving gifts to the White House staff.
The art director for Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Missouri mailed 200 prints featuring a watercolor of the White House Green Room to Jacqueline. They arrived at a Washington, DC airport less than 30 minutes before John F. Kennedy was killed. Despite her grief, Jacqueline handed the prints out to those who worked at the White House, as a “continual reminder of the President.”