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A peek at the White House holiday decor: Women’s suffrage, first responders, and more

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The Library was decorated for the holidays to recognize the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment. Children's artworks featuring women of achievement are displayed on the base of the tabletop tree. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

Melania Trump seems to have a love/hate relationship with Christmas.

The first lady always looks runway ready in her annual White House Christmas videos that she shares on Twitter on the day the decorations are unveiled. Today’s installment, marking the Trumps’ fourth Christmas in the White House highlights her 2020 “America the Beautiful” theme. Dressed in a shimmery gold top and stiletto heels, she glides, softly smiling, through the glittering, twinkling rooms in the one-minute tour of the decorations, which this year include American flag ornaments and photos of historic American female leaders.

This comes on the heels of Trump being labeled a Christmas grump after her stunning “Who gives a f— about the Christmas stuff and decorations?” comment to former East Wing adviser Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. The taped conversation, secretly recorded in 2018 and released in October, created a major stir.

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The 2020 official White House Christmas tree displayed in the Blue Room is a Fraser fir from Shepherdstown, W.Va., trimmed with more than 160 artworks created by students from each state and territory depicting something that captures the spirit of their state. —Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

Nevermind. The first lady carried on with her duties, and this year she’s dished up decorations that aptly reflect her patriotic theme, including ornaments in the Library that honor the anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment and, in the State Dining Room, a gingerbread replica of the White House, including the recently renovated Rose Garden. The official White House Christmas tree, in the Blue Room, features more than 160 pieces of artwork created by students from each state honoring what they think makes their state beautiful.

A Red Room mantel honoring first responders, including a snow-dusted hospital, is a sobering moment in the tour, bringing attention to the pandemic that has killed more than 266,000 Americans.

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The Red Room salutes America’s first responders and front-line workers. —Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

The White House reported that “more than 125” volunteers worked on the project, and photos shared on the FLOTUS Twitter feed depict some wearing masks while participating in the weekend’s assembly sessions. (In 2018 and 2019, 225 volunteers worked on decorations.)

According to a Nov. 23 article from the Associated Press, the White House is still planning to host a number of holiday parties, despite CDC guidelines indicating that gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading the coronavirus. Stephanie Grisham, first lady Melania Trump’s spokeswoman and chief of staff, told the AP that this year’s holiday events will include smaller guest lists, require masks, and encourage social distancing on the White House grounds. Hand sanitizer stations will be placed throughout the State Floor.

She told the AP: “Guests will enjoy food individually plated by chefs at plexiglass-protected food stations. All passed beverages will be covered. All service staff will wear masks and gloves to comply with food safety guidelines.”

The first lady’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comments on this or questions on how many gatherings were planned.

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The 2020 gingerbread house displayed in the State Dining Room depicts the West Wing, Executive Residence, and, for the first time, the Rose Garden and First Ladies’ Garden. The pastry team used 275 pounds of gingerbread dough, 110 pounds of pastillage dough, 30 pounds of gum paste, 25 pounds of chocolate, and 25 pounds of royal icing. —Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

The 40 towering crimson topiary trees that appeared in the East Colonnade in 2018 (which quickly became known on social media as “the avenue of blood red trees”) this year have been replaced by classical urns filled with “foliage representative of the official tree of each state and territory.”

Certain decorations have become Christmas staples during the Trump era. Be Best ornaments honor the first lady’s children’s initiative. Her “signature wreaths” (pine circles with red bows) made their debut on exterior windows of the White House in 2017 and this year there are 106 wreaths, one adorning each window. The Gold Star Family Tree honoring military families is an annual tradition upon entering through the East Wing, and the 18th-century Neapolitan Creche, now in its 53d year on display at the White House, according to the first lady’s press office, is displayed in the East Room.

The changes in the holiday previews over the years seem to reflect the Trump family’s souring relations with the press. In Trump’s first White House Christmas, in 2017, reporters assembled to watch the first lady descend the Grand Staircase in an icy white dress to pose in front of snow-covered trees as the Marine Band played “The Nutcracker Suite.” Although she made no formal remarks, we were allowed to follow her as she made her way through the decorated rooms, chatting with children who had been invited to make gumdrop trees and greenery swags. In 2018, the preview offered reporters only self-guided tours. Grisham, her spokeswoman, told me at the time that Trump decided “to let the decorations speak for themselves.” From then on, the first lady skipped the traditional press preview and released her own video instead.

The traditional red-and-green style of her annual Christmas decorations, as well as last year’s glitzy green-and-gold State Dinner in the Rose Garden for the Australian Prime Minister, will be part of Trump’s design legacy as first lady. She says this year’s theme reflects her many trips across the country over the course of her husband’s presidency.

“Over the past four years I have had the honor to travel to some of our nation’s most beautiful landmarks and meet some of the most compassionate and patriotic American citizens,” she said in a statement. “From coast to coast, the bond that all American’s [sic] share is an appreciation for our traditions, values, and history, which were the inspiration behind the decorations this year.”

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