WASHINGTON — Holiday decorations unveiled Monday for Joe and Jill Biden’s first White House Christmas honor frontline workers who persevered during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nurses, doctors, teachers, grocery store workers and others are recognized in this year’s gigantic Gingerbread White House, which was made into a 350-pound (158.76 kilograms) gingerbread village with the addition of a school and police, fire and gas stations as well as a hospital, a post office, a grocery store and a warehouse to honor workers who stayed on the job.
The mansion is unlikely to be seen in person by many people this year. Public tours are still being suspended due to the ongoing threat of COVID-19. But videos, photos and other details are available at WhiteHouse.gov/Holidays.
“Gifts from the Heart” is the theme.
In remarks thanking volunteers for decorating, the first lady explained the vision behind her theme, speaking of unity and her view that everyone comes together around faith, family and friendship, gratitude and service, and love for one’s community.
“For all of our differences, we are united by what really matters,” she said. “Like points on a star, we come together at the heart. This is the message I wanted to express in this White House. In each room, we tell a story of gifts from the heart.”
The first lady, a longtime community college professor, invited Maryland second graders for Monday’s unveiling of the holiday decorations. The White House claims that they were inspired and motivated by friends the first lady and the president made this year’s trip around the country.
Frontline workers are also represented in the iridescent doves and shooting stars that illuminate the East Colonnade hallway, “representing the peace and light brought to us by all the front-line workers and first responders during the pandemic,” the guidebook says.
While the COVID-19 pandemic affected White House Holiday Season in other ways it is still unclear how parties or receptions might be modified to address it.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said parties will be held, though they will be “different” from years past. The President and First Lady, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Doug Emhoff will light Hanukkah’s Menorah on Wednesday. Emhoff, a Jew, lit the National Menorah in the Ellipse.
Due to COVID-19 concerns volunteers who decorated the White House were not from across the country but from their local area.
The White House also wasn’t spared the supply shortages that many Americans are contending with. Carlos Elizondo, a social secretary said that topiary trees sometimes took longer to arrive.
Other holiday highlights at the White House include the 18-foot tall (5.5-meter high) Fraser fir, which commands the Blue Room. The tree is accented with ribbons bearing all U.S. States and Territories names to commemorate peace and unity.
While the Bidens were spending Thanksgiving Week in Nantucket (Massachusetts), more than 100 volunteers decorated White House. They decorated 41 Christmas trees.
25 wreaths decorate the White House’s exterior. Nearly 79,000 lights light up the Christmas trees, garlands and wreaths.
Christmas stockings for each of the Biden grandchildren — Naomi, Finnegan, Maisy, Natalie, Hunter and baby Beau — hang from the fireplace mantel in the State Dining Room, which celebrates family, while two trees in that stately room are decorated with framed Biden family photos and photos of other first families during the holiday season.
Many of the photos are personal favorites of Jill Biden, who picked them out of old family albums on trips home to Delaware, said Elizabeth Alexander, the first lady’s communications director.
This decoration is the culmination of several months of effort by the first lady, her staff and the White House East Wing. It all began as early as June.
A second grade class from Malcolm Elementary School in Waldorf, Maryland, was invited to the White House and bantered with PBS Kids characters Martin and Chris Kratt from “Wild Kratts” and costumed characters Miss Elaina, Daniel Tiger, Molly of Denali, Arthur and Rosita from “Sesame Street.”
The first lady then read her children’s book, “Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops.”
“Let’s move on to happier things,” she said after stopping to ask the kids about their pets and one boy started talking about his dogs that had died.
A local National Guard family, whose daughter was in second grade, invited her to speak at the event. She wanted to emphasize the Guard’s contribution to the U.S. response against COVID-19.