We all remember the blood trees. Over the four Christmases of the Trump administration, the annual unveiling of the White House holiday decorations—quickly followed by the collective bewilderment at first lady Melania Trump’s inevitably ghastly choices—became a nice little tradition for some of us. During a dark time, certain liberals and conscientious moderates could at least look forward to the joys and horrors of the officious empress and her ice witch displays. I was right there in the scrums; by 2020, I fancied myself such a doyenne of White House Christmas décor that I felt confident declaring that year’s spooky effort a little phoned-in.
On secret recordings, Melania professed not to “give a fuck” about Christmas decorations, but she did have a certain ghoulish flair for them. That’s why I think I had some residual excitement going into this holiday season, imagining that Jill Biden might give the people something to talk about.
I was disabused of that notion on Monday, as photos of this year’s display were released. There is very little to talk about. Is it possible that I am not the world’s greatest living self-taught expert in how the White House should be decorated at the holidays, but in fact just someone who got a kick out of making fun of our former first lady’s bizarre pageantry? I fear that might be the case. Because looking at Jill Biden’s Christmas decorations, I find myself at a loss for words. They are … normal Christmas decorations.
If you take the time to read about this year’s decorations, certain somewhat ridiculous details do emerge. For example, the theme Jill Biden chose was “Gifts From the Heart.” Uninspired to be sure, but one year the Obamas did “The Gift of the Holidays”—no one is really doing great work in this arena. And why should they? Can’t the theme just be “Christmas”? But whatever. Here’s how the Bidens explained the theme:
The things we hold sacred unite us and transcend distance, time, and even the constraints of a pandemic: faith, family, and friendship; a love of the arts, learning, and nature; gratitude, service, and community; unity and peace. These are the gifts that tie together the heart strings of our lives.
That leaves me with a few questions: If these are gifts from the heart, how do they also tie together heartstrings? But also, what? Isn’t Jill Biden an English teacher? This confusing bit of word salad is reminiscent of those obnoxious giant hearts saying things like “Unity” she put out on the lawn for Valentine’s Day. If other outlets have interpreted the statement correctly, it details a list of sort of subthemes of “Gifts From the Heart”—it seems like they couldn’t figure out how to actually decorate using such a vague theme, so they gave slightly more substantive, but still vague, themes to some of the rooms. The State Dining Room, for example, represents the gift of family, so there are stockings for the Biden grandchildren on the mantle (though aren’t they missing one for Hunter Biden’s other baby?). That same room has photos of past presidents and their families on one of the trees—including Trump.
There are a few other elements I don’t love: all the boxes surrounding the entrance to the East Wing read a bit “toy store in a ’90s movie,” and let’s not speak of the gingerbread houses that supposedly honor front-line workers. But overall, Jill Biden completed the assignment: She decorated the president’s home for Christmas in a nonterrifying way. That’s not to say she nailed it. The Melania years conditioned us to see these decoration reveals as entertainment, so, dumb as it is, it’s a little disappointing to go back to not caring about them. It goes without saying that I am so glad Melania and her husband are out of the White House, but first ice lady made such a great seasonal villain. I guess you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.