5 Facts About Decorating the White House for the Holidays That Might Surprise You

published Dec 16, 2021
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HGTV’s “White House Christmas 2021” provides plenty of insight into the annual holiday decorating of the White House.

The hour-long episode, hosted by Genevieve Gorder, culminated in a special appearance from First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, who shared some of her favorite elements of the decorations — like the Gold Star Tree, which honors military service members who died in action — and a few of her own traditions, like putting an orange in the toe of each stocking on their fireplace. But the special also gave viewers an inside look at the process and history of decorating the White House, and you might be surprised by a thing or two.

From the origin of the decorations to gingerbread replicas, here are five of the most interesting facts from HGTV’s “White House Christmas 2021” special.

The First Lady picks the decorative theme.

Ever since Jackie Kennedy picked a “Nutcracker Suite” theme in 1961, it’s a tradition for the First Lady to pick the theme of the White House holiday decorations. This year, Dr. Biden went with a “Gifts From the Heart” theme, which stems from “small acts of kindness and experiences that lifted our spirits this year and throughout the pandemic,” according to the official White House website. Several rooms in the White House were decorated to highlight different components of the theme, including Community, Family, Service, and Unity, among others.

More than 100 volunteers helped decorate this year.

Around 125 volunteers, featuring many military family members, helped make this year’s White House Christmas happen. The volunteers worked with 6,000 feet of ribbon, more than 25 wreaths, and more than 10,000 ornaments, according to White House Social Secretary Carlos Elizondo, who led the 2021 effort.

The Christmas tree gets an official welcome.

While there are over 40 trees in the White House, the official Christmas tree gets a special ceremonial welcome every year. Dr. Biden welcomed the 18.5-foot Frasier fir from North Carolina on Nov. 22 this year. Housed in the Blue Room, the tree decorations this year are meant to represent “peace and unity.” The tree is adorned with peace doves cut out of vellum paper and banners featuring the name of each state and territory in the U.S.

The White House uses the same nativity scene every Christmas.

There is a 40-figure nativity scene that has been used in the East Room of the White House during the holidays since 1967, with origins in the 18th century. The set depicts the birth of Jesus, along with the figures that came to bear witness in the biblical tale, including the Three Wise Men and several animals. 

White House gingerbread replicas play an important role.

White House replicas made of gingerbread are created and displayed during the holiday season. This year’s gingerbread creation features the White House and its “Gifts From the Heart” theme, as well as eight replicas of community buildings. The buildings include everything from a hospital to a post office, in an effort to represent the frontline workers and first responders in the pandemic. The trickiest part of the 350-pound gingerbread house and village (which has been in development since June) is moving it to its spot in the State Dining Room before the First Family arrives for the celebrations.

“White House Christmas 2021” is available to stream on Discovery+.