WASHINGTON (AP) — “We the People” is Jill Biden's holiday theme with White House decorations designed for “the people” to see themselves in the tree ornaments, mantel displays, mirrors and do-it-yourself creations that have turned the mansion's public spaces into a winter wonderland.
“The soul of our nation is, and has always been, ‘We the People,’” the first lady said at a White House event honoring the volunteers who decorated over Thanksgiving weekend. "And that is what inspired this year’s White House holiday decoration.”
“The values that unite us can be found all around you, a belief in possibility and optimism and unity,” Jill Biden said. “Room by room, we represent what brings us together during the holidays and throughout the year.”
Public rooms are dedicated to unifying forces: honoring and remembering deceased loved ones, words and stories, kindness and gratitude, food and traditions, nature and recreation, songs and sounds, unity and hope, faith and light, and children.
A burst of pine aroma hits visitors as they step inside the East Wing and come upon trees adorned with mirrored Gold Star ornaments bearing the names of fallen service members.
Winter trees, woodland animals and glowing lanterns placed along the hallway help give the feeling of walking through snow.
Likenesses of Biden family pets — Commander and Willow, the dog and cat — first appear at the end of the hallway before they are seen later in the Vermeil Room, which celebrates kindness and gratitude, and the State Dining Room, which highlights children.
Recipes contributed by the small army of volunteer decorators spruce up the China Room's mantel. Handwritten ones — for apple crisp and pizzelle, an Italian cookie — are family recipes shared by the first lady.
Aides say she was inspired by people she met while traveling around the country and by the nation's founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
A copy of the Declaration of Independence is on display in the library, while the always-show-stopping 300-pound (136 kilogram) gingerbread White House this year includes a sugar cookie replica of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, where the documents were signed.
The executive pastry chef used 20 sheets of sugar cookie dough, 30 sheets of gingerbread dough, 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of pastillage, 30 pounds (14 kilograms) of chocolate and 40 pounds (18 kilograms) of royal icing to create the gingerbread and sugar cookie masterpiece.
A new addition to the White House collection this year is a menorah, which is lit nightly during the eight-day Jewish festival of Hanukkah. White House carpenters built the menorah out of wood that was saved from a Truman-era renovation and sterling silver candle cups.
Some 50,000 visitors are expected to pass through the White House for the holidays, including tourists and guests invited to nearly a month's worth of receptions. Among them will be French President Emmanuel Macron, who will meet with President Joe Biden at the White House on Thursday and be honored at a state dinner, the first of the Biden administration.
More than 150 volunteers, including two of the first lady’s sisters, helped decorate the White House during the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
The decorations include more than 83,000 twinkling lights on trees, garlands, wreaths and other displays, 77 Christmas trees and 25 wreaths on the White House exterior. Volunteers also used more than 12,000 ornaments, just under 15,000 feet (4,500 meters) of ribbon and more than 1,600 bells.
Some of the decorations are do-it-yourself projects that the first lady hopes people will be encouraged to recreate for themselves, aides said. They include plastic drinking cups turned into bells and table-top Christmas trees made from foam shapes and dollar store ramekins.
Groupings of snowy trees fill corners of the East Room, which reflects nature and recreation, and scenes from four national parks are depicted on each fireplace mantel: Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah.
In the Blue Room, the official White House Christmas tree — an 18 1/2-foot (5.6-meter) Concolor fir from Auburn, Pennsylvania — is decorated to represent unity and hope with handmade renderings of the official birds from all 57 territories, states and the District of Columbia.
The State Dining Room is dedicated to the next generation — children — and its trees are decorated with self-portrait ornaments made by students of the 2021 Teachers of the Year, “ensuring that children see themselves” in the décor, the White House said.
Hanging from the fireplace in the State Dining Room are the Biden family Christmas stockings.
“We the People” are celebrated again in the Grand Foyer and Cross Hall on the State Floor, where metal ribbons are inscribed with the names of all the states, territories and the District of Columbia.
As part of Joining Forces, her White House initiative to support military families, Jill Biden was joined by National Guard leaders from across the country, as well as National Guard families. Her late son, Beau Biden, was a major in the Delaware Army National Guard.
She met before the event with children from National Guard families, telling them she wanted to hear their stories because “you have served right alongside of your parents and you deserve to have your courage, and your sacrifice, recognized, too.”
The White House noted that the holiday guide book given to visitors was designed by Daria Peoples, an African American children's book author who lives in Las Vegas. Peoples is a former elementary school teacher who has written and illustrated a series of picture books to support children of color, including those who have experienced race-based trauma.
Darlene Superville, The Associated Press