The White House unveiled its holiday decorations on Monday, going along with the theme selected this year by first lady Jill Biden, who titled her inspiration “Gifts from the Heart.”
East Wing communications director Elizabeth Alexander told CNN the idea for Biden’s theme was to showcase “things that unite and heal, and bring us together.” Biden and the East Wing began planning for the holiday decorations in early summer, narrowing the ideas and beginning to visualize how it would come to fruition.
In each of the public rooms of the White House – which remains closed to visitors due to the Covid-19 pandemic – there is an individual representation of the theme. The Library Room, with decorations of butterflies, reflects the “gift of learning,” while the Vermeil Room notes the “gift of the visual arts” with Christmas wreaths made of paint-dipped paintbrushes and a tree of Pantone color sample ornaments.
In the China Room, which displays the official china settings of previous presidential administrations year-round, a table was set “Nana style,” according to Alexander, a nod to Biden’s favorite family dinners, with centerpieces of candles and flowers. On the room’s trees, which had a “gift of friendship and caring” theme, ornaments of paper hands forming circles and stars hung, an idea that was also the first lady’s, said Alexander.
In the State Dining Room, two large trees were decorated with framed photographs of former first families at the White House during the holidays, and several images from the Biden’s private archive that have never before been seen publicly.
“The first lady spent the last several weekends when she was home in Delaware looking through photo albums and picking her favorites,” said Alexander.
There were photos from previous administrations, pulled from the White House archives: the Kennedys, the Clintons, the Johnsons, the Reagans – tucked on the backside of one of the trees was one small, framed photograph of Donald and Melania Trump.
Though more subdued than in recent years – and minus controversies such as red trees – the display is Biden’s nod to tradition, and carrying on with personal touchstones, even as the country feels the impact of change and loss due to the ravages of Covid-19, says Alexander.
The fireplace in the State Dining Room features six stockings for each Biden grandchild, knitted by the same Delaware artisan as the actual Biden family stockings.
According to the White House, in total there are 41 Christmas trees, 6,000 feet of ribbon, more than 300 candles, and more than 10,000 ornaments.
However, the lack of the copious amount of decoration of the last several years is felt and seen. There are more bare corners, less in the way of fake snow and twinkling lights, the Christmas trees in the Cross Hall don’t graze the ceiling and are not bunched together. In the Green Room there are just two purple trees and a handful of purple orchid plants, one of Biden’s favored blooms.
A statement from the East Wing says the first lady was “inspired by small acts of kindness and experiences that lifted our spirits this year and throughout the pandemic.”
The annual White House gingerbread house – a 350-pound replica of the original that took executive pastry chef Susan Morrison and members of her team several weeks to construct – was accompanied by other smaller gingerbread and icing “buildings,” including a hospital, a fire station, police station, a warehouse and a school.
White House social secretary Carlos Elizondo told CNN the idea was to honor the front-line workers who have kept the country functioning. Elizondo added the first lady also wanted this year’s gingerbread White House to include something that had never been done before, so Morrison affixed a large, illuminated wreath to the top of the North Portico.
President Biden and the first lady took a look at the decorations Sunday night after returning from their Thanksgiving holiday in Nantucket, Massachusetts. Jill Biden placed the last (edible) figurine on the display: a tiny gingerbread teacher, propped next to a stair railing made of angel-hair pasta painted with black food coloring.
The entire display, save the board upon which it rests, can be eaten, said Morrison.
On Monday afternoon, Biden will personally thank the 100-plus volunteers who hung the decorations over the last week. Many of them arrived prior to Thanksgiving to begin their work; by Sunday, it was “all hands on deck,” said Alexander, as the finishing touches were applied. Typically, volunteers from all over the country apply for the decorating positions, but due to the pandemic, this year they were only local to Washington, DC, said Alexander.