The day after Thanksgiving I hopped in my car for a super secret mission. I joined the almost 300 volunteers decorating The White House for the 2023 Christmas season. THE WHITE HOUSE! Every morning as I walked through the halls I was in awe. I was surrounded by history while also being part of one of the time-honored traditions of White House volunteer decorators. Rooms I had only seen in movies and online were part of my daily commute. It was a once in a lifetime experience and today I’m sharing different ways you can share in that experience!
2023 WHITE HOUSE HOLIDAY DECORATIONS THEME: MAGIC, WONDER AND JOY
The First Lady selects the theme for each year’s decorations. This year’s White House holiday decoration theme was Magic, Wonder, and Joy, celebrating how children experience the holiday season. Here are a few stats from the official White House website about what an incredible undertaking it is!
The volunteers and designers used approximately 14,975 feet of ribbon, over 350 candles, over 33,892 ornaments, and over 22,100 bells in creating the décor theme!
Over 142,425 holiday lights decorate the trees, garlands, wreaths, and displays.
HOW TO RECREATE THE WHITE HOUSE HOLIDAY DECORATIONS AT HOME
What took me by surprise? Many of the White House decorations are either recycled from past years or DIYed using items you have at home. The most used material? PAPER!! Yep – paper! Most of the White House Christmas decorations are made the old-fashioned way, sitting around a table with a hot glue gun and scissors. That made my crafty heart ridiculously happy! My fellow creators and I are all sharing ideas for recreating these White House decorations at home. I hope you’ll give them a try! The end results are breathtaking and grand, but many of the individual projects are simple enough for beginning crafters and let you add your own style.
HOW TO APPLY TO BE A VOLUNTEER HOLIDAY DECORATOR
Does this sound like something you’d love to do? This opportunity is open to the public! Volunteer applications are online and usually go live in late Summer/early Fall, so put a reminder in your calendar! This year they received over 3000 applications and selected 300 people. One of their goals is to select volunteers from every state and territory. You also have an opportunity to write a few sentences about why you’d like to be chosen in addition to the “check the box” questions on the application
Note that you DO have to pay your own way: airfare, hotel, etc to the District of Columbia (Washington DC). You do get breakfast and lunch every day. You also get to select how long you are available to volunteer (for a few days or the entire week). I met many people who came with their best friends, their sisters, etc. It would be a wonderful early Christmas gift trip!
Can’t volunteer for that length of time or don’t get accepted to decorate? There is also the opportunity to be one of the Holiday Open House Volunteers! That application also opens in the Fall.
HOW TO SEE THE WHITE HOUSE’S HOLIDAY DECORATIONS IN PERSON
White House Holiday Open House tickets are available to the public! It is the people’s house after all. Open Houses are available the entire month of December, but tickets go quick! Head on over to the White House website for information on how to request a tour. While a White House tour is special any day of the year, the Christmas Open Houses are a two-fer! You get a White House tour and get to see some incredible holiday décor.
I’m sharing photos of a few of my favorite rooms below, but every single room has something amazing! The Green Room symolizes the joy found in strength of faith. The Vermeil Room celebrates the joy of music and performance. The China Room features an oversized sweets shop. The Cross Hall of the White House features the official White House Menorah, constructed using wood from the Truman-era renovation.
The Red Room represents the joy of making holiday crafts together and also celebrates military families as part of Dr. Biden’s Joining Forces initiative. Volunteers are assigned to specific rooms so as both a crafter and an Army wife (and sponsor mom of six midshipmen at the Naval Academy!) I was beyond thrilled to be assigned to the Red Room for the weekend.
There were so many fun DIY projects in this room. The ones nearest and dearest to my heart? The self-portrait ornaments created out of drawings from military children around the world. Each drawing was framed in ribbon and spray painted pasta for an elevated kids’ craft project. I can’t wait to share a full tutorial for these!
Volunteers do not have input in to the design of each space, but we immersed ourselves in the process of creating the projects and executing the vision of the First Lady and our incredible design leads. Our team lead was Johanna Burke (you should follow her on Instagram!) – who creates STUNNING windows for Bergdorfs. Working with Johanna and so many other talented people inspired my own creativity. I took away so many tips and ideas!
THE GOLD STAR TREE
There are 98 Christmas trees throughout the White House, but the first Christmas tree you see when entering is the Gold Star tree. The Gold Star ornaments are made with wood and engraved with the names of fallen service members who have given their lives for our country. In the midst of all the celebrations of the day it was a beautiful and solemn reminder. As a military spouse, it was a tender moment remembering the friends we’ve lost.
The Blue Room of the White House features the official White House Christmas tree. Next to the red room (obviously) it was my favorite! The Blue Room and Red Room are right next door to each other. Watching this tree (celebrating all 50 states) and train tableau come to life was a thrill.
STATE DINING ROOM
This is where the famous gingerbread White House is on display! Inspired by Twas the Night Before Christmas (which was published 200 years ago) it features a sugar cookie replica of the book as well as Santa’s sleigh flying above the White House grounds. It arrived on the final day of decorating to cheers and applause from the entire volunteer crowd!
The gingerbread house includes 40 sheets of sugar cookie dough, 40 sheets of gingerbread dough, 90 pounds of pastillage, 30 pounds of chocolate, and 50 pounds of royal icing.
The East Room is the largest room in the White House. It is decked out in a GIANT advent calendar filled with oversized sugar cookies to help announce the theme for each day. First Lady Jill Biden is sharing each day on her social media channels and they are partnering with organizations like the National Parks Service!
There were many “gasp out loud” moments, but coming up the stairs and seeing a life-sized version of Santa and his reindeer soaring across the Grand Foyer almost stopped me in my tracks. Surrounded by groupings of snowy trees it is as if Santa and his sleigh are soaring through the skies delivering gifts to kids around the world. Photos don’t do it justice!
I could go on and on and on about the experience – if you have the opportunity to apply you MUST. In the meantime, I hope you’ve been inspired to bring a little bit of the White House decor to your house with some of the DIY projects we’ll be sharing over the next few weeks. This could become one of your new family traditions!