First lady Melania Trump has been known to buck a tradition or two. On Monday, her decision to tweet out a video of the White House’s holiday decorations — foregoing the usual press preview — generated speculation, not least because of the decorations themselves.
In the video, Trump walks through the glittery rooms, including a dramatic forest of 40 towering crimson topiary trees in the East Colonnade.
Her spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, said Trump decided “to let the decorations speak for themselves.”
“This is a joyous time of year when we decorate the White House for the Christmas season,” the first lady said in an official statement. “Our theme honors the heart and spirit of the American people. ... On behalf of my family, we wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”
On the second year of Trump Christmas, the first lady decided not to appear in person to unveil the work of her staff and volunteers, a gig first ladies since at least as far back as Nancy Reagan made a part of their official White House duties.
Members of the media were invited on a brisk 30-minute self-guided tour through the holiday wonderland of more than 20,000 feet of lights and 12,000 bows, put up over the past few days with the help of 225 volunteers. The official theme was American Treasures, and the color red was big.
The first lady’s office described the red motif: “The choice of red is an extension of the pales, or stripes found in the presidential seal designed by our Founding Fathers. It is a symbol of valor and bravery.”
However, the unconventional grove of red trees evoked an immediate reaction online. They were described as scary and ominous and referred to as the “hallway of Yuletide murders” and “the avenue of blood red trees.”
Green Room decorations celebrate the country’s harvest and include fruits, grains and vegetables, including aptly colored artichokes and tomatoes, which were artfully arranged on mantels and antique tabletops. The East Room featured mantel pieces trimmed with silhouetted skylines of New York, St. Louis, Chicago and San Francisco. The China Room presented table settings of three state dinners, including the Trump administration’s sole such soiree for the president of France.
In the Red Room, wreaths made of pencils bearing Melania Trump’s Be Best logo and Be Best tree ornaments highlighted the first lady’s signature initiative on issues facing children, including cyberbullying. The traditional White House gingerbread house was supersize, made of 225 pounds of dough, and included not only 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. but the entire Mall.
Over the years, first ladies have appeared in blinking Christmas tree pins and emerald green dresses. Some served long buffet tables of artisan cheeses, lamb chops and spiked eggnog that would be on the menus of that year’s holiday parties. Sometimes the artist of the official White House Christmas card would be introduced, or the White House chief florist would be around to answer questions.
Sometimes it wasn’t all festive. Facing reporters at the 1986 media preview of holiday decorations, Reagan denied that she and President Ronald Reagan had been bickering over whether Chief of Staff Donald Regan should be fired.
At the 1991 preview, Helen Thomas, longtime White House correspondent for United Press International, asked Barbara Bush how she thought the economic “depression” (a word never uttered at the White House) would affect Christmas 1991. “I hope it will make people think of others and give more to people in need,” said the first lady.
At a Clinton holiday preview at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Hillary Clinton fielded questions in front of the Blue Room tree. When asked about an allegation from Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) that a quarter of White House staffers had used drugs before coming to work there, she deemed the accusation “unfair” and said she was sure the White House chief of staff would respond.
During her years in the White House, Michelle Obama appeared at the holiday decor unveiling with her dogs for photos but did not take questions from reporters.
At last year’s media event, Trump in an off-white dress and gold stilettos made a dramatic entrance down the stairs into the White House’s Grand Foyer to the tune of “The Nutcracker Suite” as ballerinas danced around her. Although she didn’t speak to reporters, she wandered through the decorated rooms interacting with schoolchildren and was available for photo ops.
This holiday season, the White House will host 100 December open houses and receptions, the same as last year. And they expect 30,000 visitors to walk through the halls on holiday tours.