They are the least controversial decorations to adorn the colonnade in the first lady’s tenure as Christmas-decorator-in-chief.
Trump did not show up for a photo op, as she did in 2017, when the lavish presentation also included ballet dancers twirling to the Nutcracker Suite played by the Marine Band. Instead, as she’s done before, she released a video of herself filmed during her final walk-through on Sunday after returning from Thanksgiving in Palm Beach, Fla. In it, she’s looking at an advent calendar in the shape of the White House, adjusting ribbons, and sprinkling fake snow on trees in the Grand Foyer and Cross Hall, which was filled with evergreens covered in white lights or gold paint.
Gone from the colonnade were last year’s (“creepy” or chic, depending on who you asked) blood red trees made of branches of cranberries. Trump’s critics had said they looked like they were straight out of “The Handmaid’s Tale” or “The Shining.”
“A lot of people said it looks like Christmas in hell,” said Jimmy Fallon in a monologue last year. “Then Melania said, ‘Exactly.’ ”
Seth Meyers satirically reported that the first lady had done all the decorating herself, including trees that lit up to read, “Save me.”
“We are in [the] 21st century and everybody has a different taste. I think they look fantastic,” the first lady said with a laugh in rebuttal during a 2018 appearance a Liberty University in Virginia. “I hope everybody will come over and visit it. In real life, they look even more beautiful.”
During her first White House Christmas in 2017, she had lined that colonnade with abundant sprays of white branches, which could have been seen as a winter wonderland — or, when lit from below, a gathering of skeletons. As Stephen Colbert put it then, “Gahh, what holiday is that for? Saint Gorlon’s Feast of Human Bones?”
Whatever tastes viewers have, the first lady’s devotion to Christmas decorating cannot be quibbled with.
This year she began preparations as early as July, according to an Instagram post that showed her looking at an array of flowers and fabric swatches. This is within the normal holiday decor preparation time for first ladies, but most other first ladies have not trumpeted that fact. The Trumps have also had fewer state dinners than their predecessors. Such events are usually an opportunity for first families to show off their style. That leaves the Christmas decorations as the preeminent expression of Melania Trump’s tastes.
Those tastes this time around proved to be pretty and polished, if saying very little beyond generalizations about patriotism.
The decor was meant to be “a tribute to the traditions, customs, and history that make our Nation great,” according to a news release.
“This Christmas season I want to honor those who have shaped our country and made it the place we are proud to call home,” the first lady said in the release. “When I travel the country, I am inspired by the hard working people and families that I meet. No matter which state they call home, many Americans share a strong set of values and deep appreciation for the traditions and history of our great nation.”
Dec 2, 2019 | Decorations, designed by first lady Melania Trump, in the White House’s Great Hall. This year’s holiday decor theme, “The Spirit of America,” celebrates individual courage, according to the White House. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Photos of the 2019 Christmas decorations at the White House
Trump also thanked the more than 225 volunteers from all 50 states who’d done the decorating, called the White House “the People’s House,” and wished everyone a merry Christmas and a happy new year.
(One of President Trump’s campaign promises had been to celebrate Christmas proudly and eschew politically correct expressions like “season’s greetings” and “happy holidays.”)
There was a tree at the entrance of the East Wing decorated with gold stars that had been placed on it by members of Gold Star families, who have lost an immediate relative in military service. The official Christmas tree, an 18½ -foot Douglas fir from a Pennsylvania farm that Trump had welcomed to the White House as part of another tradition last week, reached to the ceiling of the Blue Room and had the name and floral emblem of each state scattered throughout its branches.
A feast of fake food, including a glistening turkey and a plate of realistic-looking green beans, sat atop a table in the China Room, “illustrating the joys of family coming together at the holidays,” according to the news release.
Gilded eagles topped some of the 58 Christmas trees, and elsewhere, in the Red Room, there were trees made out of playing cards that had the first lady’s and the president’s seals, as well as their signatures, as an homage to childhood games played at this time of year.
An ornament spelled out “Be Best” in Scrabble letters, a nod to Trump’s signature platform, which has three rather vague aims, revolving around “well-being,” online safety, and raising awareness about opioid abuse.
Trump’s decor seemed to veer from previous first ladies, who often had a homespun approach. Michelle Obama’s gingerbread White House often had a replica of the family dog, Bo. Melania Trump’s was an homage to great American landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Mount Rushmore and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, made of 200 pounds of gingerbread, and lots of royal icing by the White House pastry team.
The first lady did again have her signature wreaths, greenery with red bows, hung from every window in the White House — including those on the gingerbread White House. And for the family’s ornament she chose a metal U.S. flag that looked as if it were rippling in the wind.
Bronson van Wyck, a well known New York event planner and author sighed when describing the Trumps’ Christmas decorations: “They look like something you could find at any shopping mall, and maybe that was the goal. And if that was the goal, then no problem.”
Van Wyck, who has worked for first families from both political parties, said he understood that Melania Trump is under a microscope and how hard that can be. But it was also hard for someone from his vantage not to hope for more ambition and vision.
“Look, it’s not what Mrs. Kennedy would have done, or Mrs. Reagan. You could get a great artist in there, you could get a great architect, you could get a great designer, you could get . . . someone who’s got a point of view. . . . These decorations were just there.”