NATIONAL NEWS

Deck the White House halls: Jill Biden wants holiday visitors to feel like kids again

Nov 28, 2023, 11:26 AM

Holiday decorations adorn the Grand Foyer of the White House for the 2023 theme "Magic, Wonder, and...

Holiday decorations adorn the Grand Foyer of the White House for the 2023 theme "Magic, Wonder, and Joy," Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, in Washington. (Evan Vucci, Associated Press)

(Evan Vucci, Associated Press)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Step inside the White House during the holidays by walking beneath the branches of a Christmas tree. Stroll along a hallway decorated with oversized holiday candy and other sweets. See Santa’s sleigh and his eight reindeer suspended above the grand foyer in dramatic fashion.

Jill Biden wants everyone who visits the White House during the holidays to feel like a kid again.

“Each room is designed to capture this pure, unfiltered delight and imagination” so visitors “see this time of year through the wondrous, sparkling eyes of children,” the first lady said Monday at the first of a month’s worth of holiday receptions. About 100,000 visitors are expected for the holidays.

“Magic, Wonder and Joy” is the theme this year, President Joe Biden’s third in the White House.

Jill Biden said it was “so amazing” to see the Christmas tree atop the entrance to the East Wing when they returned Sunday night after spending the Thanksgiving holiday in Nantucket, Massachusetts.

“When Joe and I saw that last night, we were just, like, mesmerized,” she said.

The whimsical set of oversized decorations is meant to inspire the feelings of awe and wonder that put children on joyful edge during the holidays, White House aides said.

Throughout two public floors of the White House, the décor features several nods to the 200th anniversary of the publication of the poem and book commonly known as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” (The official title is “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”)

The papier-mâché reindeer suspended in the foyer are “so cool,” she said. “It’s like they’re leaping from the storybook’s pages. I don’t know how you feel about it. I feel it’s just breathtaking.”

The Library of Congress provided samples of editions of the book from the past 200 years that are on display in protective cases along the ground floor corridor. The traditional gingerbread White House includes a large sugar cookie replica of the book opened to a page that says “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.” Santa’s sleigh and reindeer also fly above the cookie White House.

On Wednesday, the first lady will unveil a holiday ice rink on the White House lawn. The White House did not release information about how the rink will be used.

National Guard families, who joined the first lady as part of her Joining Forces initiative to support military families, were among the first members of the public to see the decorations. Children of these and other military families were also treated to a performance by the cast of the North American tour of the Disney musical “Frozen.”

One of the first Christmas trees visitors see after entering the White House is decorated with wooden gold star ornaments engraved with the names of fallen service members.

The official White House Christmas tree, an 18.5-foot-tall (5.6-meter-tall) Fraser fir, stands in its usual place in the Blue Room. The massive tree highlights cheerful scenes, landscapes and neighborhoods from across the country. A toy train runs around its base.

The State Dining Room has been transformed into Santa’s workshop, with elves’ workbenches, stools and ladders circling Christmas trees, and tools and gifts-in-progress rounding out the décor.

The dining room is the customary stage for the gingerbread White House, which was assembled using 40 sheets of sugar cookie dough for the book and 40 sheets of gingerbread dough for the house, 90 pounds (41 kilograms) of pastillage, a cake decorating paste, 30 pounds (14 kilograms) of chocolate and 50 pounds (23 kilograms) of royal icing.

The library honors the tradition of bedtime stories with dangling golden moons and shimmering stars; the China Room has been turned into a sweet shop featuring baked goodies, and the Vermeil Room celebrates music with a display of rotating big Marine Band figurines with trumpets.

Glowing candles and stained glass in the Green Room celebrate faith, and holiday craft-making is the theme in the Red Room, where a tradition of featuring cranberries continues.

The official White House Menorah is on display in the Cross Hall connecting the State Dining Room and the East Room, which is decorated with trees and various advent calendars.

The décor also features likenesses of family cat Willow and dog Commander, who was recently sent away after multiple incidents of biting Secret Service personnel.

Ninety-eight Christmas trees, nearly 34,000 ornaments, over 22,000 bells and more than 350 candles were used in the décor, according to the White House. Nearly 142,500 lights illuminate trees, garlands, wreaths and other displays, and nearly 15,000 feet (4,600 meters) of ribbon are part of it all.

Seventy-two wreaths sporting red ribbons adorn the north and south exteriors of the building.

Some 300 volunteer decorators and designers spent a few days last week gathering decorations from a warehouse. They spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday putting the decorations in their proper places.

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Deck the White House halls: Jill Biden wants holiday visitors to feel like kids again