The sparkle of the holiday season comes to the White House every year, but Donald Trump had promised the country more than twinkling lights and decked halls. As a candidate on the campaign trail, he pledged to end the perceived "War on Christmas."
"You go to stores, you don't see the word Christmas," Trump said last year. "It says 'happy holidays' all over. I say, 'Where's Christmas?' I tell my wife, 'Don't go to those stores.' . . . I want to see Christmas."
Melania Trump seemed to be taking cues from her husband's desire for a traditional notion of Christmas when she unveiled the White House holiday decorations on Monday. It was all doused with an extra smattering of Trump-style cheer:
Gone were the "Season's Greetings" that the Obama family placed on their Christmas cards. The Trump family's official Christmas card reads: "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year." The dominant color scheme is an old-school red, green and gold. And the official hashtag? #WHChristmas.
The first lady made a Hollywood entrance into the holiday press preview, gliding down the Grand Staircase from the private quarters onto the state floor as ballerinas finished dancing to "The Nutcracker Suite" played by the Marine Band. Dressed in an off-white dress and glittering gold stilettos, she posed in front of trees laden with snow, icicles and glass nutcrackers, a tribute to the White House's 1961 "Nutcracker" Christmas theme.
Then she proceeded to make crafts with children from Joint Base Andrews, going from room to room assembling gumdrop trees and coloring holiday cards. Although there were no formal comments from the first lady, you could hear her chatting with the children about their plans for Christmas, their pets and what was on their lists to Santa.
Her vision for her family's first holiday at the White House was about "classic Christmas decor," according to a statement that said she was involved in selecting "every detail" of the decorations. What was described as Melania Trump's "signature Christmas wreaths" (white pine circles with red bows) were placed on the exterior White House windows. The same simple wreaths in miniature decorate the official gingerbread house, which depicts the southern exterior of the mansion.
"She is now becoming the first lady of the house and she's taking care of the house," said Paolo Zampolli, a friend of the Trumps who visited the White House at Halloween and will return for a Christmas party.
In the White House's official illustrated Christmas 2017 tour book, "Time Honored Traditions," 11-year-old Barron Trump wanders through the decked-out public rooms in a blue blazer and red scarf. But there seem to be no other personal touches or clues as to what a Trump family Christmas is all about.
The decorations include natural details such as magnolia leaves, amaryllis and pine cones. More than 150 volunteers from 29 states helped to put up the displays. In the Green Room, framed presidential silhouettes are strung on garlands and placed on antique tables. Red-and-white peppermint candies fill jars in the Red Room, which also features two traditional cranberry trees — Nancy Reagan's favorite holiday decoration.
The first lady has followed a number of seasonal traditions set by predecessors. Before Thanksgiving, Melania and Barron Trump stepped onto the North driveway of the White House to receive an 18½-foot Balsam fir that was later placed in the Blue Room. The tree was trimmed with blue and gold ornaments bearing seals from all the states and territories.
There have, however, been a few hiccups in Trump's attempt to make Christmas great again. The formal invitations to the series of White House parties hosted for friends, supporters, staff and the press corps went out this month with some messaging underneath the gold presidential seal that sent political media cackling. Rather than calling the event a White House "Christmas party" the invitation's curly script reads, yes, "Holiday Reception."
Meanwhile, the "official Merry Christmas hat" that is offered for sale by the Trump Make America Great Again Committee had liberals howling. Embroidered with Christmas lights, the red "Make America Great Again" baseball cap says "Merry Christmas" on the back. At $45, it's holiday capitalism at its best.
In other ways, the White House celebration of the season is a continuation of age-old traditions. Beginning in the 20th century, Americans began to focus on the White House during the holidays, said Evan Phifer, a research historian at the White House Historical Association. In 1923, Calvin Coolidge was the first president to walk from the White House to the Ellipse to light the National Christmas tree. Every president has done that in the decades since. President Trump will light the tree on Thursday.
In recent years, White House pets have been stars of the show. Cookies in the shape of Socks, the Clintons' cat, and the Obamas' Portuguese water dogs, Bo and Sunny, were the first to be picked off of the silver trays at White House receptions. A virtual tour of the holiday decorations by George and Laura Bush's camera-loving Scottish terrier, Barney, was dubbed the "Barney Cam" and became a highly anticipated holiday tradition.
"Things kept getting more and more elaborate with the pets," said Laura Dowling, who served as the White House chief floral designer for six years and recently published "A White House Christmas." For her last Christmas at the White House there were robotic versions of Bo and Sunny. And, holiday cookies in the shape of the dogs became a White House staple.
The Trumps don't own a pet and have given no hint that they will acquire one. The official Trump holiday cookies, we've been told, will be shaped like stars and snowflakes.
In recent holiday seasons, the president has been spotted at Rockefeller Center's Christmas tree lighting with Melania and Barron. Last year, the family celebrated at their Mar-A-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., attending a late-night church service.
Their plans for this Christmas have not yet been announced, but if they choose to return to Palm Beach for their December vacation they won't be the only first family to do so: President Kennedy and his family spent Christmas there, too.
But first, the Trumps will host more than 100 open houses and other receptions at the White House. The first lady's office expects more than 25,000 visitors will take part in public tours. But even in Donald Trump's White House, it won't be all Christmas all the time: There is an official Hanukkah celebration, too.