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Posted at 12:00 AM ET, 12/16/2011

White House Christmas card 2011: As usual, not a person in sight

The new Obama family portrait (see larger version). (Pete Souza/the White House)
The White House released a new official portrait of the Obama family Thursday, and it’s basically perfect. You could lock your own family in the Sears portrait studio for an entire weekend and not end up with anything this nice. Sasha, 10, in a fuschia-splashed party dress, and Malia, 13, in cobalt blue, coordinate nicely with their mom’s black frock and their dad’s pink tie. Everyone beams, their heads tilted casually to show off the holiday greenery behind them.

One heck of a Christmas card, right?

Nope. Their holiday card went out last week — and like almost every season’s greeting from the White House in memory, there's not a two-legged first family member in sight.

The only Obama in this year’s mailing (underwritten by the DNC) is Portuguese water dog Bo, snoozing by a toasty White House fireplace and a table laden with gifts in the drawing by artist Mark Matuszak.

President Bush's 2005 Christmas card. (AP)
If it seems vaguely familiar, that's because most presidential cards have followed a similar formula. “For the most part, it’s the White House itself, either the exterior or interior,” said Jennifer Pickens, author of “Christmas at the White House.” Occupants of the mansion rarely make the scene. FDR, the first president to send out Christmas cards, appeared in a few of his, and Bill and Hillary Clinton posed for their 1993 card after a commissioned painting ended up looking too much like a previous card. Otherwise, the cards present beautifully vacated White Houses, except for the occasional pet romping through a snow-dappled lawn or festive room.

Jorge Santini’s 2011 Christmas card. (Courtesy of the Mayor of San Juan's office)
The White House didn’t explain the choice of card or the history behind it — but we can’t help but note certain pitfalls for pols who do step into the scene. Jorge Santini, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been mocked for this year’s card, which placed his family around a taxidermied leopard mauling an antelope. Er, sending a message to his rivals? Of course not, his office told us — just an effort to promote the local wildlife museum. Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper sent out an ordinary family portrait — in which everyone noticed he wore the exact same thing as in his 2010 card.

By  |  12:00 AM ET, 12/16/2011

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