It’s All Symbols: How Jill Biden Makes High Politics With Her White House Christmas Decorations (and Sends Melania Trump a Message) | Decoration | ICON Design

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In June, when you were starting to organize your summer vacation, Jill Biden was already planning what to hang on her Christmas trees. Someone lives how they decorate their house at Christmas. A United States president rules as the first lady decorates the White House at Christmas. It is she who has had this role since the mandate of Herbert Hoover, in 1929, and in this act, and in all the gestures that fill it, there is a lot of politics.

Jill Biden unveiled the Christmas decorations on November 29, and the result is as predictable and American as a Christmas carol sung by Sinatra. So much so that when you finish reading this article the images will have been forgotten. However, it is hard not to remember some of the decorations, almost art installations, of his predecessor, Melania Trump. The Biden decor may be more … normal than the Trumps’, more given to the show, but there are more points in common than what memes and headlines translate into. The two first ladies know that they are not decorating a family home, but that of all Americans, and both are clear that what they are doing is politics. Bricio Segovia, a White House correspondent for various media, details it: “The main difference is the message that both send. While last year Melania Trump opted for a patriotic theme under the slogan ‘The beautiful America’, Jill Biden has chosen to highlight the values ​​and acts of kindness that have animated the pandemic society. In 2020, the country was already going through the covid crisis, however, Melania Trump followed a line consistent with the political rhetoric of her husband from the America First (United States first). Jill Biden, for her part, winked at those who have been on the front line of fire during this pandemic. After all, the Christmas decorations in the White House are political too. ” Segovia, the only Spanish journalist who is on the press team that follows the first lady of the United States, knows both decorations closely and affirms that “they are spectacular.”

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The theme chosen by Jill Biden for the Christmas decoration of the White House in her first year as first lady has been 'Gifts from the heart' and with it she seeks to honor frontline workers during the pandemic.
The theme chosen by Jill Biden for the Christmas decoration of the White House in her first year as first lady has been ‘Gifts from the heart’ and with it she seeks to honor frontline workers during the pandemic.

Each year the White House chooses a theme as the common thread of its Christmas decorations. This custom has existed since the time of Jackie Kennedy, who started it with The Nutcracker. The one chosen by Jill Biden in her first year as first lady has been Gifts from the heart and with it he seeks to “pay tribute to frontline workers during the pandemic,” according to the official statement distributed by his office. That responsibility falls on 41 trees (versus Melania Trump’s 58), 6,000 feet of ribbons, 300 candles, 10,000 ornaments, 78,750 lights, and 100 volunteers.

The theme is always declined in the different rooms; for example, the Blue Room is the setting for the main tree, a 5.6-meter Fraser fir, which this year is decorated with white doves with state names. The State Dining Room is presided over by two trees decorated with family photos of the other presidential couples that, according to Vogue, Biden herself chose to look at albums at her home in Delaware; in the same room, under Lincoln’s portrait there is a string of striped socks that match the Biden’s grandchildren in number.

It’s all symbols: on the East Landing is the Gold Star Tree, decorated with golden stars symbolizing the front-line workers who illuminated the darkest days of the pandemic. The topic Gifts from the Heart It is also displayed in the East Entrance, which is framed by a multitude of red boxes with blue ribbons (red, blue, let’s not leave anyone out), which gives it the appearance of a store on Madison Avenue. These gifts are, according to the official message, “the things that we consider sacred, that unite us and transcend distance, time and even the limitations of a pandemic: faith, family and friendship; love of the arts, learning and nature; gratitude, service and community; unity and peace ”. Everything is comforting. Christmas in Biden’s time is literal.

The images of Melania Trump stomping through ornaments are unforgettable and there is not a hint of irony in this statement;  Nobody won the Lithuanian when it came to generating powerful images.
The images of Melania Trump stomping through ornaments are unforgettable and there is not a hint of irony in this statement; Nobody won the Lithuanian when it came to generating powerful images.

It was not so much for the Trumps, who practiced a Christmas decoration closer to the show than to traditional values. This was appreciated in the most photographed setting: the East Colonnade, the corridor that connects the private area and the East Wing of the White House. The images of Melania Trump stomping through ornaments are unforgettable and there is not a hint of irony in this statement; Nobody beat the Lithuanian when it came to generating powerful images. In this space, the Trumps were moving away from known codes: it was closer to a red carpet than a home stage.

For her first year in the White House, Melania Trump chose a white branch decoration that made it the setting for an event; Her image, in a winter white Dior dress, looked like a promo photo from a Netflix Christmas movie. That year was just the warm-up of the next: in 2018 the first lady upped the ante and chose red trees that resemble characters from The Handmaid’s Tale. Those trees, which would work very well in any fine jewelry store, stuck with the retina of many Americans. So much so that these days the Jill Biden décor has been described, so confident, in opposition to that menacing red forest. These days the North American media are echoing the Christmas decorations and they do so by confronting the two first ladies, which is to confront the politics of the presidents. “The comments on the Christmas decorations of the White House are one more manifestation of the polarization of the country,” declares Iker Seisdedos, correspondent for EL PAÍS in Washington.

Halfway between utopia and dystopia, these trees are the pinnacle of the Trump Christmas decorations.  This blood red forest is photogenic and unforgettable like Melania Trump herself.
Halfway between utopia and dystopia, these trees are the pinnacle of the Trump Christmas decorations. This blood red forest is photogenic and unforgettable like Melania Trump herself.

However, reality sabotages the headlines. An analysis beyond the photos of each year reveals an evolution in Melania Trump’s decorations, and this is confirmed by Sally Hambleton, floral designer: “She started out being very groundbreaking and last year she went to total classicism; It was rich and hearty and American, which is what Jill Biden has done this year. In fact, what she has done is quite similar to what Melania did the year before, when she decorated the Colonnade with classical goblets on flower pedestals that may have completed the look from Biden this year. “

In the Trump decorations of the early years there were hundreds of flowers, an abundance of golds and no desire to connect with the average American, beyond the basic chromatic symbols and winks. However, the last one, was already closer (agree, with a few more gold), of Martha Stewart. The one that Jill Biden has just unveiled, Hambleton sums up, has tried to return to classicism. “It’s what we understand as a classic North American Christmas.” But there is a space that misleads and it is the East Colonnade: Jill Biden has decorated it with unclassifiable and somewhat poor blue figures that break the classic style of the rest of the rooms and that are not even controversial, like the occurrences of Melania Trump. In both cases, there is wealth and an enormous waste of lights, ornaments and symbols. It is possible to take guided tours of the Christmas decorations of the White House, but this year, due to the covid, they have had to be suspended.

Jill Biden revealed the decoration by posing in front of the tree, sitting, smiling and reading her book 'Don´t Forget, God Bless Our Troops'.
Jill Biden revealed the decoration by posing in front of the tree, sitting, smiling and reading her book ‘Don´t Forget, God Bless Our Troops’.

The messages are not only launched with the decorations, but with the total staging. Jill Biden revealed the decoration by posing before the tree in an Oscar der la Renta floral dress, sitting, smiling and reading her book Don´t Forget, God Bless Our Troops. Melania appeared on her feet, speaking just enough and walking as if she were reviewing Humanity. Any coup from Melania Trump, however, pales in comparison to Nancy Reagan’s: one year she unveiled the Christmas decorations in the company of Larry Hagman (JR) and another with Mr T, from Team A.

These festivals are a serious matter for a town that has few occasions a year to get together as a family. It is one of the few mortars of a geographically and socially atomized society. That is why all presidents dedicate time and money to this time of year. Each Administration is portrayed with the Christmas decorations (and vice versa). Bird Johnson and Betty Ford decorated the main tree with popcorn chains, Rosalynn Carter with antique dolls, Barbara Bush with 1,200 cross-stitch ornaments. The Obamas used LEDs and trees that would be replanted by the National Parks Service, and the Trumps generated many memes, the great measure of contemporary popularity. The Bidens have just premiered and the fact that their décor has barely made the news speaks of their presidency.

However, there is something that all presidential couples have in common: the first ladies are always responsible. If Kamala Harris were the president, would her husband, Douglas Emhoff, think about what color the fir balls are?



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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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