The State Dining Room of the White House is decorated for the holiday season during a press preview of the White House holiday decorations, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
WASHINGTON — Holiday decorations unveiled Monday for Joe and Jill Biden’s first White House Christmas honor frontline workers who persevered during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nurses, doctors, teachers, grocery store workers and others are recognized in this year’s gigantic Gingerbread White House, which this year was turned into a 350-pound (158.76 kilograms) gingerbread village with the addition of a school and police, fire and gas stations as well as a hospital, a post office, a grocery store and a warehouse to honor workers who stayed on the job.
Fewer people are likely to see the decked-out mansion in person this year with public tours still suspended because of the continuing threat from COVID-19. But videos, photos and other details about the decorations are available for viewing at WhiteHouse.gov/Holidays.
“Gifts from the Heart” is 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,” President Biden and his wife, Jill, say in a commemorative 2021 White House holiday guidebook. “These are the gifts that tie together the heart strings of our lives. These are the gifts from the heart.”
First lady Jill Biden, a longtime community college professor, invited Maryland second graders Monday afternoon to help her unveil decorations matching the theme, said to be inspired by people the couple met while traveling around the country this year.
Frontline workers are also represented in the iridescent doves and shooting stars that illuminate the East Colonnade hallway, “representing the peace and light brought to us by all the front-line workers and first responders during the pandemic,” the White House guidebook says.
The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting holidays at the White House in other ways.
It was unclear how the White House would handle holiday parties and receptions.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said there will be parties, but only that they will be “different” than in years past. Some indication will come Wednesday when the president and first lady and Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, light a menorah to celebrate Hannukah. Emhoff, who is Jewish, helped light the National Menorah on the Ellipse on Sunday.
The volunteers who decorate the White House came only from the surrounding area this year, instead of from all over the United States as in past years because of COVID-19 concerns.
The White House also wasn’t immune to the supply issues that many Americans are contending with. Some topiary trees took a little longer to arrive, said social secretary Carlos Elizondo.
The other showstopper of holidays at the White House is the official Christmas tree, an 18-foot-tall (5.5-meter tall) Fraser fir that commands the Blue Room and is trimmed with white doves and ribbon bearing the names of all U.S. states and territories to celebrate peace and unity.
More than 100 volunteers decorated the White House, including the Oval Office, while the Bidens spent Thanksgiving week in Nantucket, Massachusetts. They trimmed 41 Christmas trees and hung some 6,000 feet (2,000 yards) of ribbon and more than 10,000 ornaments.
Twenty-five wreaths adorn the outside of the White House, and nearly 79,000 lights illuminate the Christmas trees, garlands, wreaths and other holiday displays.
Christmas stockings for each of the Biden grandchildren — Naomi, Finnegan, Maisy, Natalie, Hunter and baby Beau — hang from the fireplace mantel in the State Dining Room, which celebrates family, while trees in that stately room are decorated with framed Biden family photos and photos of other first families during the holiday season.
The decorations are the product of months of work by the first lady and her staff in the White House East Wing, starting as far back as June.
A second grade class from Malcolm Elementary School in Waldorf, Maryland, will help Jill Biden reveal the decorations later Monday. PBS KIDS characters Martin and Chris Kratt from the program “Wild Kratts” will also be on hand.
Before a PBS puppet show for the students, the first lady will read her 2012 children’s book, “Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops,” and deliver remarks.
She also invited a local National Guard family to highlight the role the Guard has played in the U.S. response to COVID-19, and military families spending the holidays away from loved ones.
“As we celebrate our first holiday season in the White House, we are inspired by the Americans we have met across the country, time and again reminding us that our differences are precious and our similarities infinite,” the Bidens wrote. “We wish you a happy, healthy, and joyous holiday season. As we look to a new year full of possibility, may gifts from the heart light our path forward.”
Still to come will be various interactive viewing experiences on Instagram, Google Maps Street View, Snapchat and other platforms, the White House said.
JOHANNESBURG — At least nine people died and eight others were missing in South Africa after a flash flood swept away members of a church congregation along the Jukskei River in Johannesburg, rescue officials said Sunday.
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