A sleigh with reindeer, candy galore and 98 Christmas trees at the White House

Some 300 volunteers from across the country have filled the presidential residence with tens of thousands of decorations. “Magic, Wonder and Joy” is the theme on the Bidens’ third year as hosts of the Holiday Display

Christmas decorations
One of the hallways of the White House with Christmas decorations, on November 27, 2023.Associated Press/LaPresse (Associated Press/LaPresse)
Miguel Jiménez

Santa’s sleigh and reindeer are suspended in the air, as though flying from a spot near Jimmy Carter’s portrait to Barack Obama’s, while a band plays the drums. This the Grand Foyer of the White House and there are Christmas trees everywhere: 98 of them, according to official information. This year, First Lady Jill Biden has chosen a colorful, ornate, bright, childish and spectacular décor for the presidential residence. The idea is to reflect the way that children experience the holiday season. At times, it feels like one is in a theme park or a Disney movie — one titled “Magic, Wonder and Joy,” which is this year’s theme. It is the Bidens’ third time playing host to a White House Holiday Display.

The White House expects to receive about 100,000 visitors to see the two floors that are partially open to the public. The figures that went into the decoration are as dizzying as the overload of visual stimuli into which they have materialized: approximately 14,975 feet of ribbon, over 350 candles, over 33,892 ornaments, and over 22,100 bells. More than 142,425 lights decorate the trees, garlands, wreaths and displays and 72 classic wreaths adorn the North and South facades of the White House.

More than 300 volunteers who came from all over the United States to Washington spent a week setting up the displays. Vanessa Baena is glad to have collaborated to “bring a little of the magic of this Christmas season.” Marite Espinosa Sánchez also considers it “magical” that ordinary people like her have been able to volunteer and participate. “It has been very fun, everything is created with our own hands.”

The decoration features numerous nods to the 200th anniversary of the publication of Clement Clarke Moore’s classic ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, from where much of the iconography associated with Santa Claus originated. The Library of Congress has provided copies of various editions of the book printed over the last two centuries, and these are displayed in protective cases in the Ground Floor Corridor. This year’s Gingerbread White House also recreates this tale, with a sugar cookie replica of the famous book, as well as Santa’s sleigh flying overhead.

Holiday decorations adorn the Grand Foyer of the White House for the 2023 theme "Magic, Wonder, and Joy."
Holiday decorations adorn the Grand Foyer of the White House for the 2023 theme "Magic, Wonder, and Joy."Evan Vucci (AP)

“The 2023 White House holiday theme is inspired by how children experience this festive season: completely present in the beauty and bounty around them, their senses alight, with hearts open to the magic, wonder, and joy of the holidays,” the President and First Lady wrote in a welcome letter at the beginning of the commemorative 2023 White House Holiday Guide. Visitors enter the East Wing under the branches of one of the Christmas trees. Holiday candy and sweet treats float overhead in both the East Wing Lobby and East Colonnade. The marble arches of the Ground Floor Corridor are dotted with Christmas messages sent by Americans across the country to the Bidens, while letters to Santa Claus “fly” into vintage mailboxes.

The Library is decorated like a children’s room with Christmas story books, golden moons and bright stars suspended above, and the image of Santa Claus and his sleigh outside the window, flying alongside the full moon. The Vermeil Room contains a mechanical theater display, while the China Room represents a candy store with holiday cakes, cookies, and gingerbread.

Visitors then go up to the upper floor, where they are greeted by a forest of Christmas trees. The official tree of the White House bears signs with the names of all the states and territories and the District of Columbia. Located inside the Blue Room, it is an 18-and-a-half feet tall Fleetwood fir from North Carolina. Every year the chandelier is removed from the Blue Room to make way for the tree, which reaches all the way up to the ceiling.

The official Christmas tree of the White House, in the Blue Room, bears signs with the names of all the States and territories and the District of Columbia.
The official Christmas tree of the White House, in the Blue Room, bears signs with the names of all the States and territories and the District of Columbia.MICHAEL REYNOLDS (EFE)

There are other spectacular Christmas trees. In the East Room, the largest in the White House, they coexist with Advent calendars and a Neapolitan crèche with more than 40 figures, most of them from the 18th century, which has been on display since 1967. The State Dining Room has been converted for the occasion into Santa’s Workshop, with elf workbenches, stools and ladders. Life-size soldiers and ballerinas flank the Christmas trees.

The decoration also includes portraits of the family cat, Willow, and the dog, Commander, who was recently expelled after several incidents in which he bit Secret Service personnel, so he for one won’t be able to enjoy the Christmas decorations.

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