Every holiday season, the Governor and First Lady invite guests from across Tennessee and the country to celebrate the holidays with Christmas at the Tennessee Residence. This year, the theme First Lady Maria Lee chose was “The Gift of Giving,” which represented the various ways Tennesseans use their time and talents to give to others throughout the holiday season and beyond.

Public tours ended on December 11, but our team was able to get the inside scoop on this year’s theme and decorations from Ella Watkins, First Lady Lee’s Director of Special Projects & Strategic Initiatives.


The decor in each room of the Tennessee Residence represents a different gift and is planned via a joint effort between the First Lady and volunteer designers that have been selected over the years.

“The First Lady works in conjunction with the designers to really articulate the feel that she wants each room to represent,” Watkins said. “Each designer takes that and uses their creative liberties and unique ideas to make it all come to life.”

In partnership with the First Lady’s initiative, Tennessee Serves, the Lees select five nonprofits from across the state and encourage tour guests to give back through a Christmas donation drive.

This year’s selected nonprofits were Mid-South Food Bank, Birth Choice, My Friend’s House, Mission of Hope and Boys & Girls Club of Chattanooga. The nonprofits spent a day decorating their own tree along the outside of the Atrium for the donations to be placed under.

“The generosity has been incredible,” Watkins said. “We’re so grateful for all of the gifts and donations that Tennesseans have brought to help us meet their needs this holiday season.”

The Tennessee Residence welcomed guests from across the country for its Christmas tours, resulting in the first record-breaking year since 2016.

“I think my favorite thing about the holiday season at the Residence in general is just seeing all the different people come through from all across the state, all ages,” Watkins said. “It’s a really fun time of year to be in this historic home.”


**** See below for a short description of each room. ****


Foyer – The Gift of Christ’s Birth

The grand foyer included a 10-foot-tall Christmas tree adorned with ornaments and a crown nestled on the top as a reminder of Christ. The staircase was lined with evergreen wreaths, and a nativity scene sat on a table nearby with a Bible opened to the passage of scripture in Luke that tells the story of Christ’s birth.


Dining Room – The Gift of Hospitality

The holiday season often includes the hosting of family, friends and maybe even strangers. The gift of hospitality was portrayed in the dining room through Mrs. Claus, working hard to bake treats for her guests, the table set with plates waiting to be filled and family recipes from First Lady Lee’s holiday collection that tour participants were invited to take home and enjoy with their own families.


Governor’s Office – The Gift of Play

Governor Lee’s office was taken over by Santa’s elves who were climbing the bookcases, hanging from the mantle and hiding in corners. In a world that often prioritizes busyness, this room represented the balance between work and play and how that can be a priceless gift of its own.

Fun Fact: The co-author of The Elf on the Shelf® grew up in Tennessee and donated several of the elves on display in the Governor’s office for the holiday season.


Drawing Room – The Gift of Presence

There were presents wrapped under the Christmas tree in the drawing room, but that’s not what this room represented. The drawing room symbolized “presence,” the giving of ourselves and our time to one another and reminded us that the best Christmas gifts are not the ones under the tree, but the people who surround it.


Sunroom – The Gift of Creation

The décor in the sunroom brought the outdoors indoors with natural wooden materials, fresh and dried fruits and even a replica of an albino deer donated by the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency to represent the woodland creatures that call the Volunteer State home. This room was a reminder of the beautiful creation that we can find all around us.


Conservation Hall – The Gift of Imagination

The entrance to Conservation Hall was an ode to Tennesseans who use their talents to serve our state – first responders, service members, farmers, teachers, healthcare workers, volunteers etc. At the bottom of the staircase sat Santa, checking his naughty and nice list.

The tree inside the Hall celebrated one of the greatest gifts many Tennesseans have given the world—music. The tree was covered with pictures of famous Tennessee musicians. Surrounding the tree were items donated from the Grand Ole Opry Archives and the National Museum of African American Music.

Conservation Hall was an example of how imagination gives way to creativity, and from this comes many gifts and talents.


Atrium – The Gift of Peace

Last but not least was the Atrium, which represented the Gift of Peace through its still and serene environment, a significant contrast from the bright colors and decorations that encircled it. All the decor in this space highlighted the gift of peace you can receive and feel during this time of year and beyond.

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