The Red Room at the White House, 2021 (Photo: The White House)
White House Christmas celebrations changed significantly in the 20th century, an evolution that has carried into the 21st as well. Author and historian Coleen Christian Burke, a 2014 White House design partner, leads a journey through Christmas history, spanning the modest celebrations caught in black-and-white photos through the highly planned and curated White House holiday experience of today. Color photos offer an in-depth look at modern Christmas decorating themes from Jackie Kennedy to Jill Biden
Drawing from her own experience and her book Christmas with the First Ladies, Christian Burke reveals how White House decorating themes are developed, how the holiday White House functions as both a private home and public space, and offers views of some of the most memorable holiday settings created at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
1-2:45 p.m. First Ladies Set the Stage
Each seasonal decorating theme at the White House is influenced by the first lady’s personality, causes, and interests. Learn how Jackie Kennedy introduced the White House Christmas theme, how international events shaped the decor of Rosalynn Carter, and how Barbara Bush highlighted causes close to her heart. From simple handmade touches like Nancy Reagan's Christmas-card ornaments to the elaborate art installations of Hillary Clinton, Christian Burke surveys the signature holiday styles of our modern first ladies.
2:45-3 p.m. Break
3-4 p.m. How It’s Done… and the Sweetest Tradition
Based on her experience in 2014, Christian Burke provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the months of planning that led to the holiday decorations created around the theme “A Children’s Winter Wonderland.” Follow the planning and implementation of the project—which included 57 trees, multiple 20-foot arches, and a specially designed floor treatment in the State Dining Room—and learn how even the smallest details are conceived to provide the greatest impact.
Christian Burke also traces the growth of the White House’s annual gingerbread house from a modest A-frame to the impressively scaled structure it is today. And she offers a look at how White House pets have inspired culinary traditions in both the gingerbread house and holiday cookies.
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