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This year’s White House holiday decorations have a more intimate note

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

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

First Lady Jill Biden revealed White House holiday decorations Nov. 28, meant to make visitors feel warm and at home. (Video: Jackson Barton/The Washington Post)

In other words, the Maison du Peuple will be filled with reflections on the 50,000 visitors who are expected to pass through the doors over the next four weeks – some for tours, others to attend the more than 20 receptions planned for the holidays. , which are multiplying for the first time since the pandemic. The words “We the People” – the first lady’s theme this year – hang above the east wing entrance, and a copy of the Declaration of Independence, printed in 1845, is on display in the library .

For their second White House Christmas, Biden pursued his goal of a decorating style that was more intimate and accessible than his predecessor, Melania Trump. The east colonnade, known in Trump’s day as the Spooky Corridor of Blood-Red Trees, is decorated to look like a wintry birch forest, with round white ornaments and crystal droplets hanging from the ceiling, and ( false) fresh snow on the ground. Handmade woodland creatures – a fox, deer and owl made from recycled cardboard and strips of fabric – come out for a look.

There are 77 Christmas trees, 25 wreaths and more than 83,615 lights in this year’s exhibit, the White House reported. “The values ​​that unite us are found all around you,” Biden said at an afternoon reception, thanking the 170 volunteers from across the country who worked almost around the clock for seven days to decorate the home. “A belief in possibility, optimism and unity. Piece by piece, 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 grease-stained handwritten recipes provided by volunteers. In the center of the fireplace are two of Jill Biden’s own family cards, one for apple crisp and one for pizzelle, traditional Italian waffles. This year, two of Biden’s sisters volunteered for the decorating marathon.

Jill Biden’s first White House Christmas brings back a warmer, simpler vibe

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

White House Social Secretary Carlos Elizondo gave the Bidens a tour of the decorations on Sunday when they returned from their Thanksgiving family vacation in Nantucket. “I look forward to this every year,” Elizondo said. “They were thrilled and blown away by the beauty and how the house was transformed.”

The official White House tree, an 18½-foot concolor fir from a Pennsylvania farm, stretches floor-to-ceiling in the Blue Room, decorated with handmade birds from all 50 states as well as the six US and DC territories

The real centerpiece this year, however, is the “We the Children” exhibit in the state dining room, reflecting Biden’s career as an educator. Self-portraits created by students of the 2021 Teachers of the Year from across the country have been fashioned into ornaments for Christmas trees. “The first lady specifically wanted the project to include self-portraits because she wanted the kids to see themselves in the holiday setting,” Alexander said. “I mean, my tree at home is covered in my kids’ art.” Red and white striped knit stockings bearing the names, in green, of the Biden grandchildren hang by the fireplace.

Re-enactments of First Pets Commander (the dog) and Willow (the cat), wrapped in red scarves and sculpted from papier-mâché and upcycled products such as burlap and fabrics, also greet guests as they exit. of the east colonnade. A cheekier version of the Bidens’ German Shepherd appears in the “Kindness and Gratitude”-themed Vermeil Room, emerging from 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 approachable for people back home, so there are several DIY elements,” Alexander said. Among them is a curtain of bells hanging from red and green ribbons from the windows of the Green Room. Real bells mingle with DIY versions made from plastic tumblers and plastic wine glass tops, spray-painted gold and hung from shower curtain rings.

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

A new menorah, built with wood removed from the White House during the Truman-era renovation in the 1950s, now adorns Cross Hall, where the Marine Band played holiday favorites near an arch of balls golden glass.

Late in the morning, the first lady hosted an education roundtable with children from National Guard families in Roosevelt Room, where the fireplace had Christmas lights and garlands. Biden opened up about how much he missed his late son Beau’s daughter, Natalie, over the holidays when he was deployed to Iraq. They also discussed favorite Christmas movies. The children 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 holiday decorating concert tour last year, Jill Biden’s theme was “Gifts from the Heart” and there were fires. crackles throughout the castle. The rooms, which smelled of fresh evergreens, were filled with shooting stars and doves of peace. The gingerbread house paid homage to the nation’s frontline workers, representing a hospital, police station and fire station.

Each first lady puts her own spin on the holiday with themes, greens, garlands and insider stories reflecting both the era and their 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 are not 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 experienced one of its typical mid-December heat waves, fruit flies swarmed the room, according to Temple’s memoir “Flowers White House Style,” written with Stan Finegold.

And Nancy Reagan insisted that metallic snowflake ornaments be made by teenagers from a drug rehabilitation program she supported, even though her decorator Ted Graber vetoed them, according to the former florist’s book. in chief Nancy Clarke, “My First Ladies”.

Like many of us, the Bidens are having a busy holiday season now that masks no longer seem to be the party accessory of choice.

White House Residence staff are overworked, with Naomi Biden’s nuptials on the South Lawn on November 19, Joe Biden’s 80th birthday, the first lady and her grandson Beau receiving the official Christmas tree of the White House and President Biden pardoning two turkeys in the Rose Garden. And on Thursday, Jon Batiste will perform for French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, and guests at this administration’s first official state dinner. 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 soiree is the first-ever state dinner during the holiday season. This streak, from November to the end of the year, Elizondo said, “is our Super Bowl.”

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

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