French Ambassador to the United States Gérard Araud, right, and his partner, photographer Pascal Blondeau, pose for a photo featured on their annual holiday party invitation. (Pascal Blondeau)

The first hint this was not a typical holiday party was the giant stuffed polar bear — passed out and clutching an empty bottle of Champagne — in the entrance of the French Embassy.

French Ambassador Gérard Araud and his partner Pascal Blondeau hosted Thursday’s “Soiree de Noël,” an avant-garde fever dream of seasonal extravagance unlike anything else in Washington. The party, designed by Blondeau, featured Christmas trees tipped on their sides, evergreens topped with stuffed penguins and bears, ballet dancers in brocade tutus and enough Champagne and caviar to fuel reindeer games all night long.


French Ambassador Gérard Araud speaks to guests at his annual holiday party on Thursday. (France in the U.S.) (France In the US/France In the US)

“It’s fabulous,” said Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.). “It’s whimsical. It’s engaging. It’s memorable.” He struggled for the perfect word. “It’s . . . unique.”

More than 600 hundred guests floated through the ambassador’s Kalorama residence, but none created such a stir as a very traditional Washington VIP: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose legend now includes a big-screen biopic opening this month.

Drunken bears, festive selfies and the Notorious RBG? “It’s a Noël Français,” Coons said. “Très fantastique.”


Pascal Blondeau has fun with the decorations at the French Embassy's holiday party. (France in the U.S.) (France In the US/France In the US)