During the holidays, you can find a little magic everywhere you turn. But something tells me very few places are more magical than the White House in December. That’s because the holiday décor, both inside and out, is the sight you imagine every classic Christmas song alludes to through their customary tunes and familiar lyrics.
One chilly D.C. afternoon, I found myself walking in six-inch heels, draped in my fanciest winter coat and fur combination, toward the black iron gates of the White House. From the street I could see nothing other than the stark white exterior and a few dozen security guards patrolling. It wasn’t until I passed the first two checkpoints that the spirit of the holidays was even revealed.
Strands of small white Christmas lights drooped over the evergreen bushes that surrounded the lawn, and beaming red lights lit up the white walls on either side of the door I would eventually enter through. On the gates and on the door hung simple, yet striking wreaths that were tied with one exquisite red bow. Atop the stairs stood a 10-feet-tall, gift-shaped pergola, which was also red. From afar I took in this picture-perfect scene, but it wasn’t until I reached the entrance that I realized the most enchanting part was actually the adorned 12-foot thresholds over the door and windows. Over the door sat a thick strand of garland, made of a red ornament in various textures and hues, as it glistened and glittered against the setting sun. The massive windows were trimmed as giant red presents to match the pergola standing in front of them.
Just like in most homes where the owners have pets, the Obamas’ beloved dogs, Bo and Sunny, were first to greet me. Only, these dogs were larger-than-life statues that stood still in the East Landing, next to a wooden Christmas tree ornamented with tennis balls and other dog toys.
Suspended from the ceiling in the hallway, which led me toward the sound of holiday music and a crowd in good spirits, were long ribbons in a few shades of red and purple. Several of those strands dangled crystals, which reflected the sunlight as a snowflake would have and cast tinted shadows along the hallway. The magic of the moment was intensified when I realized the sun was coming through windows that overlooked the lawn Michelle Obama referenced in her now-famous DNC speech earlier this year.
At the end of that hallway stood a Christmas tree and the introduction to this year’s White House holiday theme of gifts Americans cherish (formally named The Gift of the Holidays). This tree, located in the East Garden Room, symbolized the first (of three) gifts: service and sacrifice. It pays tribute to the men and women who have laid down their lives for our country with Gold Star ornaments about the tree. The sizable American flag display next to the tree honors our nation’s service members and veterans, with images of them and their families. Around the tree were devices that gave visitors the opportunity to send holiday messages to soldiers currently serving.
From there, I entered the party, where guests joyfully enjoyed the season and its festivities as they awaited the entrance of the party’s hosts. In the room—featuring a painting of George Washington and another of his wife, Martha Dandridge Custis Washington—was a spread of hearty hors d’oeuvres that included charcuterie boards, fancy cheeses and scrumptious potato cakes, among other things. That table also displayed six-feet-tall, bronzed nutcrackers on either end. In the center stood a small, dark-green tree ornamented with clusters of hollies. The bars offered the usual sodas, a variety of liquors, festive eggnog and (my drink of choice) Champagne. The room had several fully decorated trees that were lit and had matching ornaments. In the corners stood giant traditional nutcrackers that could only have come straight from the North Pole.
In the adjacent room, guests had begun to gather along the rope line and under the staircase, which signaled that the Obamas would soon be making their entrance. After waiting several minutes, the couple of the hour was spotted on the staircase that was adorned with fresh evergreen garland, silver ornaments and red ribbon. The crowd erupted in way that they would at the concerts of their favorite performers. Flashes firecrackered off as everyone’s phone was in the air positioned for the perfect shot. The president and his first lady walked down, hand in hand, as guests cheered in the excitement of getting just a glimpse of them.
The Obamas made their way over to the platform in between two substantially sized trees adorned in icicles and gold ornaments, and under a lush garland that glittered against the constant camera flashes. Michelle stepped only slightly behind her husband as they surveyed a crowd of supporters who had stood behind them and their every word for the past eight years.The president began addressing the room and the crowd was at a standstill. He welcomed us and explained how special this holiday season was to him and his family, as it was the last one in a place they’d called home for nearly a decade. He thanked his supporters and threw in a couple of jokes. The room couldn’t help but love him, chuckling and shouting out things such as “four more years.”
Those chants reminded everyone of the uncertainty that is soon to follow this administration, and an obvious feeling of despair—that up until that moment had been noticeably absent—overtook the room. It was then that our president offered those words of hope and encouragement for which we have grown to rely on him.
That dark moment vanished as soon as someone yelled out “Michelle 2020,” and the crowd burst into an applause and cheers. The first lady shook her head no, but giggled—obviously flattered.
He wrapped up his speech and the live band of classical instruments resumed the holiday music. They made their way down the rope line, shaking hands and posing for quick selfies, before retiring back upstairs. Guests danced, ate and made merry for the rest of the evening until it was time to be ushered out.
As we approach the final days of the Obama administration, it’s hard not to reminisce on the good times the first family has shared with our country. And I am so thankful that I’ll be able to look back and remember the evening I spent in their home at one of their final holiday parties.
Megan Pinckney (@shadesofpinck) is a retired beauty queen turned lifestyle blogger who loves exploring the world and writing about it.