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Christmas at the White House – and the Trumps are back

First lady Dr Jill Biden has unveiled the White House's Christmas theme for 2021.
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US first lady Jill Biden has unveiled her much-anticpated first White House Christmas decorations, continuing a long-standing tradition and giving it an unlikely spin.

The president’s wife has chosen a theme for the festive season at the official residence since Jacqui Kennedy went with the Nutcracker Suite back in 1961.

But, while Christmas decoration planning might seem fun and light-hearted, it’s also a task on which many first ladies are judged and critiqued. Not least Dr Biden’s predecessor Melania Trump, who earned savage criticism for some of her polarising choices during husband Donald’s presidency.

Ms Trump’s run as the commander-in-chief of Christmas decorations was tarnished in October 2020 when audio tapes recorded in 2018 revealed she secretly hated the job.

“I’m working … my a–e off on the Christmas stuff, that you know, who gives a f— about the Christmas stuff and decorations? But I need to do it, right?” she was heard saying.

For 2021, Dr Biden has selected the theme “Gifts from the Heart”, with many acknowledging the difficult past two years experienced in the global pandemic.

She’s even allowed the Trumps to return for this year’s Christmas unveiling. Well, they’re not actually there in person, but they do feature in a photograph on the State Dining Room Christmas tree, along with other former presidents and first ladies.

“Yes, I looked. Tucked into the back side of one of the trees, there is one of Donald and Melania Trump,” tweeted CNN’s White House correspondent Kate Bennett during Monday’s guided tour of the unveiling of the official decorations.

white house christmas
Donald and Melania Trump, in a snap from their White House Christmas in 2018, on the 2021 tree. Photo: AAP

Dr Biden said each room and section of the building – and the 41 Christmas trees they feature – told a different story “of gifts from the heart”.

“We are united by what really matters, like points on a star. We come together at the heart. That’s what I wanted to reflect in our White House this year,” she said.

In a long speech, she explained the significance of each room.

The East Wing honour the “gift of service”, paying tribute to frontline workers during the pandemic, while the Vermeil room is a tribute to the “gift of visual arts”.

Most notably, in the Blue Room sits a 5.6-metre Frasier fir adorned with dove ornaments with the name of each US territory, all representing peace and harmony.

The doves that adorn the Blue Room’s Frasier fir. Photo: Getty
Dr Biden’s Christmas ornaments mark a return to a more traditional holiday theme. Photo: Getty

It’s an impressive display for Dr Biden’s first Christmas in office, and perhaps a return to more ‘conventional’ Christmas themes.

It’s certainly a stark contrast from Ms Trump’s choices.

In her first year in the White House, Ms Trump did away with traditional Christmas trees altogether, instead opting for potted, wirey-looking plants.

Melania Trump’s choice of decorations in her first year in the White House were labelled ‘eerie’ and ‘spooky’ by critics. Photo: YouTube/The White House

Ms Trump caused even more controversy in 2018, with her selection of deep red trees.

The White House said the bold red and white theme represented the stripes found on the presidential seal, signifying valour and bravery. Not everyone saw it that way, with memes inspired by the Christmas visuals popping up instantly.

“So Melania decorated the White House for Christmas – with blood red trees right out of The Shining: Holiday Version,” noted one Twitter user. A second said she was subtly sending out a “Code red”.

The backlash even prompted a statement from Ms Trump in defence of the decorations.

“We are in 21st century and everybody has a different taste … I think they look fantastic.”

Mrs Trump’s odd selection of bright red trees in 2018. Photo: YouTube/The White House

In 2019, Ms Trump went monochrome with a look themed “The Spirit of America”. It featured models of the White House with mini wreaths on the windows and ‘Be Best’ decorations (one made from Scrabble tiles) on trees and in hallways.

Predictably, social media reaction was mixed. Many Twitter users found the decorations classy.

“Breathtaking. Just beautiful,” wrote one user. “Grateful for you,” said another.

But one unhappy critic asked if Ms Trump was sprinkling attention-deficit drug Adderall on the trees.