This year, you won’t find any creepy skeletal branches or foreboding hallways full of blood red trees among the White House Christmas decorations. First Lady Jill Biden’s 2021 theme, titled “Gifts from the Heart,” is a lot more normal than anything we saw during the Trump administration, for better or worse. Some people might find themselves missing the drama and controversies of Melania Trump’s choices, while others might take the blandness of this year’s decor as a reassuring sign that everything in the White House is exactly as boring as we prefer it to be.
“Gifts from the Heart,” as explained by the White House website, is “inspired by the small acts of kindness and experiences that lifted our spirits this year and throughout the pandemic.” Rooms throughout the White House are decorated to reflect themes like gratitude, service, friendship, family, nature, peace, unity, the arts, community, learning, and faith. In total, there are 41 Christmas trees, 6,000 feet of ribbon, more than 300 candles, and more than 10,000 ornaments used in the displays, all put up by 100 volunteers.
This year’s decor is significantly scaled back compared to the 2017 to 2020 Christmas displays. While Melania Trump preferred to fill every space with lights, fake snow, branches, and other decor, Jill Biden’s tastes appear to be more low-key, perhaps out of respect to the effects of the continuing pandemic and the fact that tours of the White House are still canceled. The Christmas trees are smaller, the decor a little more spread out. Also notably missing are the dozens of life-size “snow people” first installed in the garden by Michelle Obama in 2015 and moved inside in 2016, which President Obama memorably called “creepy,” saying “There’s a whole kind of Chucky element to them.”
In the Blue Room, the official White House Christmas tree is adorned with peace doves holding white ribbons bearing the name of each state. Celebrating “the gift of peace and unity,” the display is the centerpiece of all the holiday decor and features the tallest tree, an 18.5-foot Fraser fir from North Carolina. The room’s chandelier even had to be removed to accommodate it.
Other elements of the decor include purple and fuchsia orchids woven into the mantel in the Green room, trees made of shimmering purple ornaments looking out onto the Washington Monument, and a Gold Star Tree honoring lost members of the military in the East Colonnade. Stacks of books, along with butterflies and birds made of recycled newspapers, decorate the Library in reference to the “gift of learning,” and in the East Room, the “gift of gratitude” is symbolized by handwritten notes full of grateful reflection.
The official 2021 gingerbread house celebrates a theme of gratitude for front-line workers, and features a gingerbread hospital, fire station, schoolhouse, gas station, police station, grocery store, post office, and warehouse outside an edible replica of the White House. Five people worked on the 350-pound gingerbread village for several weeks. Jill Biden, herself a schoolteacher, placed the final element on the scene: a gingerbread schoolteacher holding an English book and a bag full of apples with the label “#1 teacher.”
The Bidens added some personal touches, as well. In the State Dining Room, the “gift of family” is expressed with a row of family stockings embroidered with the names of the Biden grandchildren, and two large trees trimmed with framed photos of the Bidens and other first families. Some of those photos include a snapshot of the Bidens’ German shepherd dogs Champ and Major, as well as a family photo taken before Beau Biden’s death from brain cancer in 2015.
Since so few people will see the decorations in person, the White House has released interactive and augmented reality features on its digital platforms and social media. That includes a virtual tour on the official White House website.