A special look at White House Christmas themes from Jill Biden to Jackie Kennedy

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In late November, First Lady Jill Biden announced “We the People” as the theme for the 2022 White House Christmas. As she explains: “[T]Radiation may be different, but our shared American values ​​of possibility, optimism, and a belief in unity endure season after season. ”

Mrs. Biden’s articulation of “our shared American values” could take some work. It’s strange to talk about the belief in optimism when optimism itself is a belief. “Faith, Family, Friendship, Arts, Learning, Love of Nature, Appreciation, Service, Community”.

Luckily, the First Lady’s decorating is better than her tone, and her holiday choices are well received.

A Christmas tree in the State Dining Room of the White House is decorated with portraits of U.S. President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden during a press preview of the holiday decorations in Washington, DC, November 29, 2021. I’m here.
(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

While the entire White House was tastefully and even spectacularly decorated for Christmas 2019 and 2020, each hallway in 2017 and 2018 was filled with tall monochromatic objects (a white twig and a red Christmas tree, respectively). ) was occupied by This effect has been compared to “The Shining” and “The Handmaid’s Tale”. I suspect Mrs. Trump was influenced by the chic minimalism of her models. This minimalism works well for photo shoots, but not for spaces that are supposed to be more family-friendly.

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It was Jacqueline “Jackie” Kennedy who started the tradition of the White House Christmas theme by decorating the Blue Room tree with figures from the ballet “The Nutcracker” in 1961.

Later first ladies such as Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, Betty Ford, Rosalyn Carter, and Nancy Reagan tended to focus on early Americana, including colonial, Victorian, and American folk art. had. The first lady did not hesitate to recycle ornaments from previous years and administrations.Both Barbara Bush (1990) and Hillary Clinton (1996) used Kennedy’s “Nutcracker” motif. was revived.

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Is the White House Christmas theme, like nearly every quadrant of American society, increasingly politicized? Even ostensibly neutral themes like Betty Ford’s “old-school Christmas in America” ​​are set against a backdrop of 1970s chaos and irony. When set, it can be viewed as a reactionary statement or a nostalgic plea.

While this year’s “We the People,” which quotes the opening paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, was overtly patriotic, last year’s “Gifts from the Heart” was not.

The Trump era had Time-honored Traditions (2017), American Treasure (2018), Spirit of America (2019), and America the Beautiful (2020). None of the themes are political anymore. Better than Laura Bush’s 2008 “Red, White and Blue Christmas.”

November 28: Christmas decorations are seen at the White House entrance and Cross Hall as part of First Lady Dr. Jill Biden "we the people" Decorating theme in Washington DC on November 28, 2022.

NOVEMBER 28: Christmas decorations can be seen at the White House entrance and Cross Hall as part of First Lady Jill Biden’s “We the People” decoration theme on November 28, 2022 in Washington, DC .
(Photo by Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Here’s what we know. The First Lady may use this opportunity to highlight causes close to her heart or disadvantaged groups. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is Barbara Bush’s promotion of children’s literacy in 1989. was indirect).

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Another tactic is to take advantage of craftsmanship skills that have special meaning. Pat Nixon decorated his tree for White House Christmas 1969 with velvet and satin balls made by disabled workers in Florida.

For several Christmases, Nancy Reagan used decorations made by teenagers from Second Genesis, a drug treatment program. (!).

Eight-year-old Archibald, son of Theodore Roosevelt, surprised the First Family by sneaking a Christmas tree into the White House on Christmas Day 1902. The caption reads: "No one seemed more surprised than Mr. Roosevelt." The incident helped spark interest in Americans for Christmas trees in their homes. Painting by George Varian.

Eight-year-old Archibald, son of Theodore Roosevelt, surprised the First Family on Christmas Day 1902 by sneaking a Christmas tree into the White House. The caption reads: This incident helped spark interest in Americans for Christmas trees in their homes. Painting by George Varian.
(White House Historical Society)

But perhaps the most consistent political thread that ties all 61 years of White House Christmas themes together is its safe secularism, at least as far as Christianity is concerned.

Hanukkah celebrations have been held at the White House since the George H.W. Bush administration, but this year it will be special because Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, is Jewish. have meaning.


Of course, the Christmas tree is a quintessential Christian symbol. Contrary to claims that it is a remnant of a pagan Christmas, the tree is the Tree of Life (symbolized by sweets), the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (the red ball evokes the forbidden fruit), and the Child’s ground lineage (Wright forms a pyramidal family tree).

Nevertheless, America’s First Ladies have been careful to downplay the tree’s religious significance. , is on display in the East Room, a safe distance from the Christmas tree in the Blue Room. For the unity of the citizens, it is safer to celebrate America in general than Jesus’ birthday.

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