U.S.

What Is a State Dinner? The History Behind Donald and Melania's White House Event

The state dinner that French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron are partaking in Tuesday night is the first that the Trump administration has hosted for a visiting head of state, but one of hundreds held in the White House since 1874.

It is a tradition that President Ulysses Grant started to welcome King David Kalakaua of the Sandwich Islands, now Hawaii, and its formalities as they stand today were solidified in the 1950s and 1960s, according to the White House Historical Association.

Related: Melania Trump Is Not a Failure and Neither Is Her State Dinner, Spokeswoman Says​

A state dinner honoring a foreign government head or reigning monarch is among “the grandest and most glamorous of White House affairs,” the group's site explains. “It is a courtesy—an expression of good will—a way of extending hospitality. It brings to mind the tradition of breaking bread with friends to seal a friendship. It is an event that also showcases global power and influence. The traditional toasts exchanged by the two leaders at the dinner offer an important and appropriate platform for the continuation of the serious dialogue that has taken place earlier in the day.”

The first lady and her staff are charged with planning the dinners, including the guest list, table settings, food, decorations and entertainment. First lady Melania Trump chose Clinton White House and Bush White House china, cherry blossom like the Obamas did, and rack of lamb and jambalaya for Tuesday's dinner.

France has been the guest start at about a dozen state dinners, the first in 1931 when former President Herbert Hoover hosted Prime Minister Pierre Laval, and the most recent in 2014 when ex-President Barack Obama hosted former French President Francois Hollande. The United Kingdom has taken part in the most state dinners, about 24.

The State Dining Room was expanded by then-President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902 during a White House renovation to accommodate more guests. State dinners continued even when the White House closed for a complete interior reconstruction from 1948 to 1952—then-President Harry Truman held them at hotels in Washington, D.C.