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

Throughout two public floors, the décor features numerous nods to the 200th anniversary of the publication of the poem and book known as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’

The White House is adorned with Christmas wreaths during a media preview of the "Magic, Wonder and Joy" theme holiday decorations at the White House in Washington, U.S
The White House is adorned with Christmas wreaths during a media preview of the "Magic, Wonder and Joy" theme holiday decorations at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 27, 2023.KEVIN LAMARQUE (REUTERS)

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 through Christmas to feel like a kid again. “Each room on display is designed to capture the pure, unfiltered delight and imagination of our childhoods, to see this time of year through the wondrous, sparkling eyes of children,” the first lady says. She’s playing host for a reception Monday to formally unveil the décor and thank some 300 designers and decorators who volunteered to spend past week transforming the executive mansion.

“Magic, Wonder and Joy” is the theme this year, the Bidens’ third in the White House. The whimsical set of oversized decorations are meant to inspire the feelings that put children on joyful edge at this time of the year, White House aides said.

Throughout two public floors of the White House, the décor features numerous 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 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 fly above the cookie White House.

The White House released a fact sheet and allowed the news media to see the trees, lights and other decorations before the first lady’s unveiling. National Guard families, who were invited as part of Joining Forces, her White House initiative to show appreciation for military families, will be among the first members of the public to see the decorations.

Children of these and other military families were also being treated to an afternoon performance by the cast of the North American tour of the Disney musical “Frozen.”

One of the first Christmas trees visitors will see upon 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.

In her prepared remarks, the first lady says she knows that magic, wonder and joy can be hard to find, especially as the days grow shorter, the weather turns colder “and our hearts grow heavy in the face of a tumultuous world.”

“But it’s in these times, when we are searching for hope and healing, that we need those points of light the most, that we need each other the most,” she says. “It’s in these times that I hope you remember, if even just for a moment or a season, how you saw the world as a child.”

Ninety-eight Christmas trees, nearly 34,000 ornaments, over 22,000 bells and more than 350 candles were used in the decor, 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.

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