Democrat, Republican, Independent, naturalized citizen, American-born, permanent resident, foreign visitor, adult, child. No matter who you are, it is always a thrill to cross the threshold into “The People’s House” aka The White House. But during the holidays, it is magical. This year you are greeted by giant penguins as you enter through the East Visitor entrance.
Portraits of First Ladies line the walls as you walk up the steps toward the East Colonnade–Nancy Reagan in her signature red and Bess Truman exuding Midwestern warmth. The first tree you see is the Gold Star Tree in honor of the men and women who gave their lives in service to our country. It is always surrounded by a crowd of people, writing messages of hope and gratitude and remembrance. You, too, can send a message to our troops and their families by visiting Honoring Our Troops on the White House website.
The East Colonnade is a winter wonderland this year (even though the temperature outside is well-above freezing). Hand-crafted snowflakes bearing the hopes and aspirations of D.C. public school students float in the air and a cheerful cadre of snowmen have invaded the East Garden.
Rounding the corner, you enter the East Garden Room. Tennis ball trees surround the First Family’s dogs Bo and Sunny.
Milk bones dangle from the branches of a Douglas fir while Abe Lincoln looks out from a corner, reminding us of where we are.
Pass through the long central hall way on the ground floor. Peek into the White House Library where six trees are trimmed with novels and manuscripts, the Vermeil Room with the ethereal portrait of Jackie Kennedy, and the China Room with the striking portrait of Grace Coolidge and her white collie Rob Roy. In addition to the holiday decorations, these rooms brim with antique furniture from the Federal period. Then up the stairs to the East Room where I stopped to pose for a photo.
If you look closely, you’ll see the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington—the one First Lady Dolley Madison saved when the British invaded Washington D.C. and ransacked the White House in 1814. Festive trees fill the Green Room, Blue Room, and Red Room, but my favorite eye-candy is the artwork hanging on practically every inch of wall space: Portraits of iconic statesmen like Benjamin Franklin, sweeping landscapes of America’s West, scenes from America’s past, and modern masterpieces like The Builders by Jacob Lawrence.
Onward to the State Dining Room where the eye-candy really is candy!
The forty-five minute holiday tour ends in the Cross Hall and Grand Foyer. Here images of our late-twentieth and twenty-first century presidents stand sentinel. The haunting, almost surreal portrait of John F. Kennedy across from the eternal optimist, Ronald Reagan, as you enter the Cross Hall. And George W. Bush and Bill Clinton on opposite walls in the Grand Foyer. Music spills into the air as a pianist seated at the 1938 Steinway plays holiday tunes.
One last look, then you exit out the front doors, down the steps of the North Portico, and head toward Pennsylvania Avenue.
Before I leave the White House grounds, I take a moment to savor the view of D.C. from inside the wrought iron fence that surrounds The People’s House.
Happy holidays! Wishing you and yours peace, love, and joy in the New Year!