By Rachel Childs
Last week, I had the honor of attending a White House holiday party with my husband. I was a bundle of nerves and excitement as we headed for the soiree. I was wearing two coats, but as I stood in line outside the White House waiting for our various security checks, I silently cursed myself for choosing a knee-length cocktail dress instead of a warmer, full-length ball gown.
Finally, we were greeted in the warm entry of the East Wing. We checked our coats and my eyes were drawn upward to the red, white and blue streamers hanging from the ceiling. It felt both patriotic and festive, a theme repeated in many holiday decorations throughout the White House that night. We had not walked much farther when we were greeted with a table of sparkling drinks. I chose a champagne flute as my chief concern was looking fancy in photos. I am no connoisseur, but it was the best champagne I have ever tasted, so I stand by my selection!
The first room we explored was the Vermeil Room, which displayed various portraits of first ladies. The room had a decidedly feminine style; the Christmas tree within was adorned with pink ornaments and the room’s center table displayed ballet slippers and delicate flowers.
Posing with the 1949 portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt by Douglas Chandor
We made our way upstairs to the State Floor, which is where most of the festivities were held. An orchestra played holiday favorites (I heard them play Disney’s “Frozen” music too, delighting both young and old guests), while the crowd mingled and enjoyed the decorations, food and drinks. Buffet-style spreads were found in the State Dining Room and East Room. The food was superb and included holiday favorites such as roast beef, ham, turkey and eggnog. The dessert table, positioned next an elaborate gingerbread rendition of the White House, did not disappoint. Sugar cookie likenesses of Bo and Sunny, the first family’s dogs, not only looked good but tasted good too.
We wandered throughout the Red, Blue and Green rooms, named for the wallpaper and decor colors used within. In the Blue Room, the iconic White House Christmas tree prompted more posing and photographs. This year, the tree celebrated “We the People.” A ribbon with the preamble to the U.S. Constitution circled the towering tree and mirrored ornaments hung from its branches. Some of these ornaments had messages written to service members from their families. The glitz and sparkle was continued on the room’s fireplace mantle, which held mirrored silhouettes of service members from different branches.
Each room was decorated in its own theme. The East Room had large golden nutcrackers on the buffet table and a giant nutcracker in the corner nearly obscuring Teddy Roosevelt’s portrait. There were many Christmas trees throughout the rooms, but my favorite was the “dessert” tree. The ornaments depicted lollipops, candies and other sweets. Tiers of Lego gingerbread houses acted as a garland of sorts. My favorite house featured a frosting George Washington, who looked none too pleased to have a cherry atop his head.
Another highlight of the East Room was the White House crèche. I was taking photos of the elaborate nativity scene when what I assume was a staff member came over to tell me more about it. He said the nativity scene was the oldest thing in the White House. Made of terra cotta and carved wooden figures, it was made in the 18th century in Naples, Italy, and gifted to the White House in the 1960s. The nook it inhabits serves as a backdrop to the intricate pieces. The staff member said the figures remain in the same place each year, as no one wants to drill different holes for the hovering angels. He joked that it was remarkable no one had ushered us away from the scene thus far, as the crèche was priceless.
The whole night was wonderful and surreal, but no doubt the highlight was getting to meet President Barack Obama. Because each guest had the opportunity to get their photo taken with the president, it was a brief meeting. My husband and I were formally announced, which was the first time (and likely the last) I ever experienced such a custom. As I felt my face break into a nearly hysterical smile, I found the president graciously ushering me to my mark for the photograph. After the photos were taken, the president shook my hand and warmly wished me a merry Christmas. I had not expected to shake his hand, so, in an ecstatic shock, I heard myself say, “Thank you, you too!” Hopefully my exuberance made up for any lack of formality!