First lady Jill Biden unveiled the decorations for her family's first White House Christmas on Monday, inspired by people the couple met as they traveled the country this year.
Many of the decorations this year, as part of the "Gifts from the Heart" theme, honor frontline workers nationwide.
What You Need To Know
- "Gifts from the Heart" is the theme of President Joe Biden's first White House Christmas
- First lady Jill Biden unveiled the decorations on Monday, inspired by people the couple met as they traveled the country this year
- According to the first lady's office, more than 100 volunteers spent the past week decorating the mansion using 41 Christmas trees, 6,000 feet of ribbon and more than 10,000 ornaments
- Jill Biden invited a Maryland elementary school class to help her reveal the decorations; the kids were treated to a puppet show, got to meet characters from PBS Kids shows and watched the First Lady read her book about military families to them
"The things we hold sacred unite us and transcend distance, time, and even the constraints of a pandemic: faith, family, and friendship; a love of the arts, learning, and nature; gratitude, service, and community; unity and peace," the Bidens write in a commemorative 2021 White House holiday guidebook. "These are the gifts that tie together the heart strings of our lives. These are the gifts from the heart."
“As we celebrate our first holiday season in the White House, we are inspired by the Americans we have met across the country, time and again reminding us that our differences are precious and our similarities infinite,” the First Lady and President continued. “We wish you a happy, healthy, and joyous holiday season. As we look to a new year full of possibility, may gifts from the heart light our path forward.”
The decor features a gigantic gingerbread White House that recognizes front-line workers who persevered through the coronavirus pandemic, while the official Christmas tree — an 18-foot-tall Fraser fir — celebrates the gifts of peace and unity, the White House said.
The massive tree is from Jefferson, North Carolina, and was was presented by Rusty and Beau Estes of Peak Farms, who were named the 2021 Grand Champion Grower in the annual National Christmas Tree Association’s National Christmas Tree contest, according to the White House. It's the Estes' third time winning the award.
With the Bidens spending Thanksgiving week in Nantucket, Massachusetts, more than 100 volunteers set about decorating the executive mansion — including the Oval Office — with 41 Christmas trees, some 6,000 feet of ribbon and more than 10,000 ornaments.
Twenty-five wreaths adorn the north and south sides of the building, and nearly 79,000 lights illuminate the Christmas trees, garlands, wreaths and other holiday displays.
Jill Biden invited a second grade class from Malcolm Elementary School in Waldorf, Maryland, to help her reveal the decorations, the White House said. PBS KIDS characters, including beloved cartoon star Arthur, "Sesame Street" muppet Rosita and Martin and Chris Kratt from the program "Wild Kratts" were also on hand.
"Do you know I’m a teacher? Yes, I'm a teacher," Dr. Biden said to the gathered students. "So I teach English so I love kids who love books and learning to read."
Dr. Biden asked the students if any of them were from military families, and said that her family inspired her childrens book, "Don't Forget, God Bless Our Troops," which she read to the group.
"The Bidens are a military family and my dad was in the Navy and he fought in World War Two, and my son was Army," she said. "So when my son was away, my granddaughter, just like you kids, really, really missed her daddy so I wrote this book to tell other kids – Cause there's lots of kids who don't know what it's like to be a military kid, right, or to have somebody in the military – and they don't realize, like, sometimes it's really hard."
"So what I did was I wrote a story about my son when he was away, and I talked to my granddaughter Natalie, and so she told me all about it, so I knew exactly how she felt," she continued. "So I'm going to read you the story of my son, and his name was Beau. Here's the story."
The children were also treated to a puppet show from the cast of the PBS Kids show "Donkey Hodie."
Later, Dr. Biden thanked the volunteers who worked so hard to help put together the White House's holiday decor.
"I feel like I should be applauding you because you’re certainly the ones that made this house a home so thank you very much," she said, later adding: "You all made this possible. Thank you for everything you've done"
Traditions, she said, "as varied as we find the people who make up this country. But at the core of our traditions are threads that unite us all: Faith, family, and friendship, gratitude and service, and love for our community."
"And when it gets difficult, when the pandemic keeps us apart, like I know how tough this year has been, but when we struggle to get by, or we feel like the weight of our lives is just too heavy to carry, these constants remind us that we are not alone," she added.
"For all of our differences, we are united by what really matters like points on a star we come together at the heart," she continued. "That is what I wanted to reflect in our White House this year."
"In the Christmas story, the Magi traveled from afar, each carrying very unique and precious gifts," she said. "They didn't know their destination but they held on to their faith and followed a divine star."
"There are still challenges ahead for our nation," Dr. Biden continued. "There will be moments when the answers seem unclear. But we have a guiding light as well. Not a star in the sky. But a divine truth within us – the values that make us who we are, the threads that unite us all, the gifts from the heart. No matter how dark the night, when we turn toward that light, we will never be lost."
"So thank you for helping us share those gifts from the heart," she concluded. "And happy holidays and Merry Christmas from our family to all of yours. We love you."
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 White House guidebook says.
She also invited a local National Guard family to highlight the role the Guard has played in the U.S. response to COVID-19, as well as military families spending the holidays away from loved ones.
Reporters toured the decorated White House before the formal unveiling.
"As we celebrate our first holiday season in the White House, we are inspired by the Americans we have met across the country, time and again reminding us that our differences are precious and our similarities infinite," the Bidens wrote. "We wish you a happy, healthy, and joyous holiday season. As we look to a new year full of possibility, may gifts from the heart light our path forward."
On Sunday, Vice President Kamala Harris' husband, Doug Emhoff, marked the start of Hanukkah, by helping to light the National Menorah on the Ellipse.
Emhoff, the first Jewish spouse of a Vice President, shared a photo on social media of himself and vice president Harris lighting a menorah in their residence on Sunday to mark the start of the holiday.
The official White House Christmas tree, always set up in the Blue Room, is decorated with peace doves carrying a banner embossed with the names of the 50 states and the U.S. territories. Jill Biden tweeted a photo of the tree early Monday.
The Gingerbread White House, which weighs hundreds of pounds, includes eight detailed replicas of community buildings that represent front-line workers.
It was unclear how the White House would handle holiday parties and receptions.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said there will be parties, but only that they will be “different” than in years past.
The volunteers who decorate the White House came only from the surrounding area this year, instead of from all over the United States as in past years because of COVID-19 concerns. The White House also wasn’t immune to the supply issues that many Americans are contending with. Some topiary trees took a little longer to arrive, said social secretary Carlos Elizondo.
The White House may see less foot traffic this holiday season as public tours remain suspended due to COVID-19, but videos, photos and details about the Christmas decorations are to be made available for viewing at WhiteHouse.gov/Holidays.
Still to come throughout the holiday season are various interactive viewing experiences to be made available on Instagram, Google Maps Street View, Snapchat and other platforms, the White House said.
Twenty-five wreaths adorn the outside of the White House, and nearly 79,000 lights illuminate the Christmas trees, garlands, wreaths and other holiday displays.
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 trees in that stately room are decorated with framed Biden family photos and photos of other first families during the holiday season.
The decorations are the product of months of work by the first lady and her staff in the White House East Wing, starting as far back as June.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.