The White House unveils a friendlier look for 2022 holiday decorations


Everyone is familiar with those shiny mirror ball ornaments you can find at any big box store, but this year First Lady Jill Biden hung real mirrors on the trees of the White House Grand Foyer. Circular mirrors. Square mirrors. Bend down and your face will appear, clear as day.

“It’s very intentional, very intentional,” said Biden’s communications director, Elizabeth Alexander. “It’s important to the first lady that people see themselves in the setting.”

First Lady Jill Biden unveiled the White House’s holiday decorations on Nov. 28, designed to make visitors feel warm and at home. (Video: Jackson Barton/The Washington Post)

In other words, the People’s House will be filled with reflections of the 50,000 visitors expected to come through the doors over the next four weeks – some for tours, some to attend the more than 20 holiday receptions planned, increasing for the first time since the pandemic. The words “We the People” — this year’s first lady theme — hang over the entrance to the East Wing, and a copy of the Declaration of Independence, printed in 1845, is on display in the library.

For her second Christmas in the White House, Biden continued her goal of a more familiar and accessible decorating style than her predecessor, Melania Trump. The East Colonnade, known in Trump’s time as the spooky corridor of blood-red trees, is decorated to look like a winter birch forest, with round white ornaments and crystal drops hanging from the ceiling and fresh (fake) snow on the ground . Handmade woodland creatures – a fox, deer and owl made from recycled cardboard and strips of fabric – stand out for a peek.

There are 77 Christmas trees, 25 wreaths and more than 83,615 lights in this year’s display, the White House reported. “The values ​​that unite us can be found all around you,” Biden said at an afternoon reception, thanking the 170 volunteers from across the country who worked nearly around the clock for seven days to decorate the house. “A belief in possibility, optimism and unity. Room by room, we represent what brings us together during the holidays and throughout the year.”

A very personal touch this year is in the China Room. The mantle and trees feature handwritten, grease-splattered recipes contributed by volunteers. In the center of the mantel are two Jill Biden family cards, one for apple crisp and one for pizzelle, traditional Italian waffle cakes. This year, two of Biden’s sisters volunteered for the decorating marathon.

Jill Biden’s first Christmas in the White House brings back a warmer, simpler atmosphere

At the reception, Biden thanked the volunteers for traveling so far to work so hard. “Now, some of you may still have a little glue gun residue on your fingers or a sore back from hauling all that snow off the colonnade,” she said. “Yesterday, you might have thought, ‘If I have to tie one more bow, I’m out of here!’ I’m right?”

White House Social Secretary Carlos Elizondo gave the Bidens a tour of the decorations Sunday when they returned from a family Thanksgiving vacation in Nantucket. “I look forward to this every year,” Elizondo said. “They were ecstatic and amazed at the beauty and the way the house was transformed.”

The official White House tree, a 5.5 meter concolor fir from a farm in Pennsylvania, reaches floor to ceiling in the Blue Room, decorated with handmade birds from all 50 states as well as the six territories of US and DC.

The real centerpiece this year, however, is the “We the Kids” display in the state dining room, reflecting Biden’s career as an educator. Self-portraits created by the students of the 2021 teachers from all over the country were transformed into Christmas tree ornaments. “The first lady specifically wanted the project to include self-portraits because she wanted the children to see themselves in the holiday decor,” Alexander said. “I mean, my tree at home is covered in my kids’ art.” Red and white striped knit socks bearing the names, in green, of the Biden grandchildren hang from the mantle.

Recreations of First pets Commander (the dog) and Willow (the cat), wrapped in red scarves and sculpted from tissue paper and recycled products such as canvas and fabric, also greet guests as they exit the East Colonnade. A cheekier version of Biden’s German shepherd appears in the “Kindness and Gratitude”-themed Vermeil Room, peeking out of a wrapped gift box while Willow rests nearby. The room includes boxes from Operation Gratitude, a non-profit organization that provides care packages to first responders, deployed troops and military families.

The whole look is meant to “feel approachable and accessible to people at home, so there’s more of a DIY element,” Alexander said. Among them is a curtain of bells hung from red and green ribbons at the windows of the Green Room. Real bells mix with DIY versions made from plastic cups and plastic wine glass tops, spray-painted gold and hung from shower curtain rings.

Four national parks—Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, and Shenandoah—are highlighted in the East Room. The Red Room has stained glass windows, as well as a tower of candles, pink and red orchids (the first lady’s favorite flower) and fresh cranberries, a long-standing tradition in this space. The official White House gingerbread in the State Dining Room weighs 300 pounds and includes a reproduction of the sugar cookie from Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.

A new menorah, constructed from wood removed from the White House during the Truman-era renovation in the 1950s, now houses Cross Hall, where the Navy Band played holiday favorites next to an arch of golden glass balls.

Late in the morning, the first lady held a roundtable discussion about education with children from National Guard families in the Roosevelt Room, where the mantle was lined with Christmas lights and garlands. Biden talked about how much her son Beau’s daughter Natalie missed him over the holidays when he was deployed to Iraq. They also discussed their favorite Christmas movies. The kids voted for Home Alone and Elf. “I like the Snoopy one,” Biden said.

Planning for Christmas decorations began last spring. (Imagine having to come up with 8 different holiday themes for a two-term presidency!) For her first run at the holiday decorating gig last year, Jill Biden’s theme was “Gifts from the Heart” and there were fires crackling throughout the mansion. The rooms, which smelled of fresh greenery, were filled with shooting stars and doves of peace. The gingerbread house honored the country’s frontline workers, depicting a hospital, police station and fire station.

Each first lady puts her own twist on the holidays with themes, greenery, garlands and inside stories that reflect both their times and personalities.

Pat Nixon displayed a dollhouse made for Rutherford B. Hayes’ daughter under one of the trees. Betty Ford introduced the traditional cranberry topiary to the Red Room in 1975, says former White House chief floral designer Laura Dowling.

Things aren’t always perfect. During Rosalynn Carter’s watch, chief floral designer Dottie Temple created della Robbia-style pyramids stacked with fresh apples, lemons, limes and kumquats for the State Dining Room. When Washington had one of its typical mid-December heat waves, fruit flies took over the room, according to Temple’s memoir “Flowers White House Style,” written with Stan Finegold.

And Nancy Reagan insisted on metallic snowflake ornaments made by teenagers in a drug rehabilitation program she supported, even though her decorator Ted Graber rejected them, according to former chief floral designer Nancy Clarke’s book, My First ladies”.

Like many of us, the Bidens have a busy holiday season right now, when masks don’t seem to be the go-to party accessory.

The White House staff was out in force, with Naomi Biden’s wedding on the South Lawn on November 19, Joe Biden’s 80th birthday, the first lady and grandson Beau receiving the official White House Christmas tree and President Biden forgiving two turkeys from the Rose. Garden. And on Thursday, Jon Batiste will perform for French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, and guests at the first official state dinner of this administration. The Bidens will also host a Kennedy Center Honors party celebrating George Clooney, Gladys Knight and U2, among others, on Sunday.

According to Elizondo, the Macron dinner is the first state dinner of the holiday season. This period, from November to the end of the year, Elizondo said, “is our Super Bowl.”

Asked if he and the White House staff were exhausted, Elizondo enthusiastically replied, “No, we’re not tired. We are full of caffeine.”

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