Taza Khabre

What it takes to transform the White House for the holidays

The 300 volunteers were divided into eight teams, each named after a different Santa’s reindeer.

The day after Thanksgiving, while the Bidens were still in Nantucket, teams descended on the White House, working over the weekend to decorate the halls with hand-attached rubber drops, fashion chicken wire into branch-topped arches, place nut-decorated crystals on mantelpieces, and hang paper- waving reindeer hovering above the Cross Hall and the Great Foyer.

The transformation — praised by first lady Jill Biden as the result of “hard work and painstaking attention to detail” by a host of volunteers — has resulted in a holiday-themed White House brimming with historic touches.

Regardless of administration, turning the White House complex into a wonderland is a feat that relies on donated materials and volunteer time. Even the Oval Office is being decorated.

Here are some of the numbers behind this year’s display.

When planning began this spring, Dr. Biden told her team that she wanted visitors to experience the decor through the eyes of a child.

“Children are not bound by time and know beauty in themselves,” she said this week as she unveiled the decorations. “This childlike wonder and awe inspired this year’s holiday theme: ‘The Magic, Wonder and Joy’ of the season.”

Decor includes a grand train circling the official White House Christmas tree, an 18-foot Fraser fir in the Blue Room, and countless papier-mâché ballerinas. On the ground floor are early editions of “The Visit of Saint Nicholas,” a poem also known as “It Was a Night Before Christmas,” on loan from the Library of Congress. Another display contains more recent books, one of which is printed in Spanish, that share the same theme.

The song also serves as the inspiration for this year’s 300-pound gingerbread White House and Santa’s sleigh scene. (Special scaffolding was made to hang the sleds, so they wouldn’t drill into the building.) In the crafts-themed Red Room upstairs, family portraits drawn by children of military families hang from trees strung with popcorn yarn garlands.

Two younger sisters of dr. The Bidens, twins Kim and Kelly, were part of the decorating crew this year. Volunteers signed up starting in August, and their duties included lining up 500 letters to Santa (and the Bidens) in the downstairs hallway.

“Please bring me a dinosaur. I love you!” reads one letter addressed to Santa and Mrs. Claus.

After the Bidens leave to spend Christmas at Camp David — they’re opting to spend it there instead of at the White House for the first time since President Biden took office — a small team of 75 volunteers and White House staff will spend about two days taking down the decorations, according to East wing.

This is a lot of power, but there are a lot of trees.

The first tree guests will encounter is a large Fraser fir dedicated to Gold Star families, those whose relatives died as a result of active military service. There are 97 other trees throughout the complex, including two huge advent calendar-themed trees in the East Room.

Former first ladies are featured in the Vermeil Room on the ground floor, dedicated to gilded silver. A white lighted tree illuminates a portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy, and on the other side of the room, a wreath decorated with white lights and tiny ballerinas hangs below a portrait of Lady Bird Johnson.

Numerous portraits of other first ladies, including Michelle Obama, are decorated with red and white amaryllis. (Mrs. Obama’s display case is also decorated with candy jars.) A more somber display can be found nearby in a ground-floor hallway, where a portrait of Rosalynn Carter, who died last month, is covered in black paint.

It takes a team of chefs about three weeks to assemble the creation, according to East Wing. 300 pounds requires 40 sheets of cookie dough, 40 sheets of gingerbread dough, 90 pounds of pastilage (sugar paste), 30 pounds of chocolate, and 50 pounds of royal icing. Elizabeth Alexander, the first lady’s communications director, did not immediately respond to a question about whether anyone had ever taken a bite from the house, but noted that the structure is entirely edible except for the lights.

The official White House menorah, which is a year, sits in the Cross Hall. It was made by White House carpenters and uses wood from the 1950 White House renovation.

There is also a 50 x 70 foot ice rink installed on the south lawn. The White House says that this year, children of members of the military and from local schools will be invited to skate.

Public tours are organized through congress offices each visitor’s home country or territory. The White House also offers virtual tours.

Speaking of politics, the White House’s holiday decorations are often analyzed—and politicized—by observers, who look for subtext in every choice. (Remember former first lady Melania Trump’s blood-red trees?)

This year, while inspecting the decoration, dr. Biden nodded to the “tumultuous times” outside the gates and said she hoped the transformation of the White House could break through the difficulties, if only for a little while.

“In these times when we’re looking for hope and healing, these points of light — all of those — you know, the most we need is each other,” she said.

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