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20 Rules Every First Family Is Supposed to Follow

For instance, you won't find the president driving down Pennsylvania Ave.

JFK And Turkey, Washington, USA
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The president pardons a turkey on Thanksgiving

The U.S. president holds the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation every year, where they celebrate and spare a turkey from the Thanksgiving table. John F. Kennedy is reportedly the first president to throw a ceremony and rescue a bird. Learn about the hidden talents of 24 U.S. presidents.

The White House in Washington DC with beautiful blue sky

The first family decorates the White House

Congress only funds part of the decorating process. According to the White House Historical Association, the first family makes up the difference if they over-spend on new furnishings. Plus, certain rooms are entirely off-limits for redecorating. The White House Curator helps balance the home needs of the first family and the artifacts in the iconic home. These are the 8 perks U.S. presidents get to keep after leaving office.

Britain Trump Visit, London, United Kingdom - 13 Jul 2018
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The first lady chooses an interior designer

Melania Trump tapped Tham Kannalikham to redecorate the White House private quarters. Former first lady Michelle Obama went with Los Angeles-based interior designer Michael Smith to decorate the rooms. These presidential mysteries were never solved.

International Day of the Girl on NBC's Today Show, New York, USA - 11 Oct 2018
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The first ladies sit down for tea

The former and future first ladies typically sit together for tea sometime before the change of power. According to CNN, Laura Bush offered Michelle Obama help if she needed it during this meeting, just as Obama offered her help to Melania Trump. In 2021, however, Trump did not invite incoming first lady Dr. Jill Biden to the White House prior to inauguration day. You probably weren’t taught these facts about the White House in history class.

White House Christmas decorations unveiling, Washington, DC, America - 02 Dec 2015
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There should always be a Christmas tree theme

Jackie Kennedy is the first lady who ushered in the Christmas tree theme, according to the White House Historical Association. She decorated a tree in the oval Blue Room after Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” ballet. First lady Melania Trump decided the 2018 theme was “American treasures.” Do you know which state produced the most U.S. presidents?

Annual White House Easter Egg Roll, Washington D.C, America - 28 Mar 2016

The first family always hosts the Easter Egg Roll

The White House grounds opened to the public for the first Easter Egg Roll in 1878. Since then, presidents have hosted the event on the lawn every year except for a few years during World War II and during a White House construction project, according to the White House Historical Association. Here is the funniest joke told by 23 U.S. presidents.

Trump, Washington, USA - 21 Nov 2017

The first family should live in the White House

The White House is the official residence of the first family. That said, when President Donald Trump came into office his son, Barron, and the first lady did not move in until the end of the 11-year-old’s school year.

Close Up Angle On Oval Office Of White House, Washington DC, USA.

Windows in the White House remain closed

There won’t be a natural breeze passing through the White House since the windows must remain closed. Michelle Obama said that she was anticipating finally opening windows for some fresh air after the end of her husband’s turn as president.

Pets Housetraining Trouble, Washington, USA
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Presidential pets are a tradition

It’s tradition for the president and his family to have a pet to “soften their image,” according to CNN. Former presidents have had everything from ponies to raccoons, although President Trump did not add a pet to the first family during his term.

A flag on a grave at a southern California cemetery.
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The president must plan their funeral

In the first two weeks of their presidency, new presidents must make their funeral arrangement plans.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Washington, USA

The president attends the White House Correspondents dinner

It’s tradition for the president to participate in the annual dinner that sponsors journalism scholarships, awards, and celebrates the First Amendment. The first presidential attendee was Calvin Coolidge in 1924. President Donald Trump did not attend the event during his term.

Trump, Salt Lake City, USA - 04 Dec 2017
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The first family pays for their own food

The president pays for his own groceries at the end of every month. According to the Guardian, that even includes holidays like Thanksgiving. The government only pays for food for official state functions. The first family also gets to witness some of the most beautiful White House holiday decorations.

Moving boxes in empty room

The first family pays the move-in bills

The president-elect is responsible for organizing and funding transportation for all the first family belongings that are going to the White House.

President and First Lady pay respects to the family of fallen US Secret Service Agent, Joint Base Andrews, USA - 18 Jul 2018
Olivier Douliery/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The president can’t decline security

The president, vice president, and their immediate family members are all protected by the secret service. Only former presidents are allowed to decline protection, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Here are 11 strange things presidents have banned from the White House.

US President Barack Obama State Visit to Britain - 22 Apr 2016
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The president can’t drive

Past presidents have gone as far as to call this rule one of the worst parts of being in office. Specifically, former presidents and vice presidents can’t operate cars on the open road, for security reasons. Learn about these other astonishing facts about the presidents.

Obama, College Park, USA
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The president should use a secure phone line

Barack Obama kept his Blackberry phone while in office, but he reportedly only used it for games. There is also a White House issued cellphone with limited capabilities for security purposes. Obama even gave in his device every 30 days to check for hacking or other suspicious activity. President Trump reportedly had multiple phones, with at least one exclusively for Twitter, per The Verge.

Sidwell Friends Lawsuit, Washington, USA
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The first children usually go to private school

In the last century, only former President Jimmy Carter sent his children to Washington, D.C. public schools. President Trump broke tradition by sending Barron Trump to St. Andrew’s in Potomac, Maryland instead of the popular first family school choice of Sidwell Friends, according to Town & Country. These are the 13 presidents with the highest IQ scores.

Air Force One, the presidential plane, flies over New York, America - 27 Apr 2009

The president flies Air Force One

Every chief executive since Roosevelt has flown on dedicated presidential airplanes. John F. Kennedy, however, was the first president to fly in a jet specifically built for presidential use.

Harry Truman, Washington, USA
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The president always meets with the Queen

The first president to meet Queen Elizabeth II was Harry Truman, according to TIME. Although Elizabeth wasn’t technically queen yet, she visited Washington, D.C., on behalf of her father King George IV.

White House Chef, Washington, USA
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The first lady usually has a specific cause

The role of the first lady has evolved over the years thanks to the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt and others who took on more responsibility beyond hostessing. First ladies typically advocate for causes or initiatives they are passionate about, especially during their time in the White House. Michelle Obama, for instance, chose many causes to support including encouraging healthy eating to solve the epidemic of childhood obesity, among others. Incoming first lady Dr. Jill Biden plans to continue her career as a college professor while reviving Joining Forces, an initiative originally started alongside Michelle Obama to support military personnel, veterans, and their families. Next, check out 22 surprising presidential “firsts” you never knew about.


  • CNN: Trump Family Breaks with Presidential Pet Tradition
  • HuffPost: Michelle Obama Just Wants to Open Her Windows, Darn It
  • Refinery 29: Here’s Why Trump’s Family Won’t Move Into the White House
  • The White House Historical Association: What Is the History of the White House Easter Egg Roll?
  • CBS News: White House Christmas Decorations 2018
  • The White House Historial Association: White House Christmas Themes
  • CNN: Michelle Obama Says Melania Trump Turned Down Her Offer of Help
  • The New York Post: Inside the Obama’s Private Rooms of the White House
  • Us Magazine: Melania Trump Taps Interior Designer Tham Kannalikham to Redecorate White House Private Quarters
  • The White House Historical Association: The Curator
  • NBC News: Presidential Turkey Pardons, Not as Long a History as You Might Think
  • History.com: Michelle Obama
  • TIME: Here’s How Every Meeting Between the Queen and a U.S. President Went
  • WhiteHouse.gov: Air Force One
  • History.com: Who Was the First President to Fly on Air Force One?
  • Town & Country: Barron Trump’s New School, St. Andrew’s Episcopal, Started Classes Today
  • The Verge: Trump Tweets He Only Has One ‘Seldom Used’ Cellphone, Via His iPhone
  • Politico: ‘Too Inconvenient:’ Trump Goes Rogue on Phone Security
  • NBC News: Obama Gets to Keep His Blackberry
  • CNBC: Past Presidents Agree, This Surprising Rule Is One of the Worst Parts of Running the Country
  • Slate: First Movers
  • The Guardian: Obama Foots the Bill for White House Thanksgiving
  • Thrillist: Presidents Pay for Groceries and 14 More White House Food Facts
  • CNN Politics: Trump Declines to Attend White House Correspondents’ Dinner
  • Elle Decor: 10 Surprising Details About Moving Into the White House
  • TODAY: Melania Trump Has Not Reached Out to Jill Biden, Ashley Biden Says
  • Yahoo: Jill Biden Has Already Announced Her First Initiative as First Lady
  • ABC News: Jill Biden Could Make History as 1st First Lady to Hold Paid Job Outside the White House

Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is a former staff writer at Reader’s Digest. There’s a 90% chance Emily is drinking tea right now, but when she’s not writing about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts and liking one too many astrology memes.