Every once in awhile my proximity to the nation’s capital results in interesting opportunities. I got a chance to visit the White House somewhat by luck to see the 2015 Christmas decorations displayed for public viewing. This was the standard public tour — I’m no VIP just an average citizen — although it happened to occur during a particularly scenic time of the year. It also served as a reminder that the White House was more than a residence for the President; it was also the people’s house and a museum.
I won’t be discussing any geo-oddities today so feel free to come back when I post the next article, or enjoy some holiday photos I took as I walked through rooms on exhibit.
I’d been to the grounds of the White House several times before, most recently for the Easter Egg Roll in 2013, although I’d never been inside the actual building. I’d never gotten around to it in spite of living in the Washington, DC area my entire life. Getting tickets always seemed like such an chore. However this time I practically had tickets handed to me so I couldn’t turn them down. Now I believe I’ve completed perhaps every tourist attraction in my hometown, which is saying a lot.
National Christmas Tree
We arrived with plenty of time to spare so we began our adventure by strolling down to the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse. The wife and kids enjoyed wandering amongst the many state and territorial trees while I took a short detour over to the Zero Milestone marker to pay my respects. Certainly there was time to find the closest piece of weird geography before starting our tour.
East Visitor Landing
Envision the strictest possible airport security imaginable and that’s what it was like trying to get onto the White House grounds. They’d collected enough personal information ahead of time to completely steal my identity if that’s what they’d really wanted. I guess we checked out because we saw ourselves on the list and they let us proceed to the first of several sequential security lines. This included two separate positive identification checks, a stroll past sniffing dogs, and finally a passage through the magnetometer. I joked that we’d probably get through all of the lines only to discover that we’d reach the end of the tour; we’d find ourselves back on Pennsylvania Avenue after the final check. The ordeal of getting into the White House took longer than the time we actually spent inside, although I wasn’t complaining. I’d actually been concerned ahead of time that maybe the tour might be canceled due to recent events so I was fine with it taking as long as necessary.
Finally we made it up to the East Visitor Landing, greeted by giant cutout penguins as we entered the doorway.
One recent change made me happy, and made this article possible. The White House had prohibited visitor photographs for more than forty years before lifting the ban in July. I wasn’t allowed to bring my good camera or use a flash, although my mobile phone camera passed muster and served well enough. I began snapping as soon as I entered the East Colonnade and I didn’t stop until I exited on the front lawn. I figured I might never get another chance.
The colonnade featured hand-cut paper snowflakes dangling from the ceiling. Naturally I had to find the Virginia snowflake.
East Garden Room
I felt sorry for the bust of Abraham Lincoln stuck behind a Christmas tree. He had a better view during the rest of the year, of the south lawn and the Washington Monument in the distance.
Vermeil seemed to be an unusual word. What was it, and why would anyone name a room for it? The explanation was pretty mundane: it was a fancy name for gold plated silverware. Someone gifted of set of silverware to the White House that was placed in the room. The name stuck.
The East Room was the largest room in the White House. If you’ve ever seen a photo of a reception held by the President it’s likely to have occurred within this room. It occupied the entire short width of the White House with views both of the north and south lawns from its windows. That’s when I realized that the White House may be a large residence although it wasn’t a particularly large building. Those famous receptions must get pretty crowded. The average ballroom in a mid-tier hotel would likely be larger than the stately East Room. I imagined the East Room was probably decorated a lot nicer, though.
Then we came to three rooms named for different colors, the first being the Green Room. Notice, indeed it was green.
Following came the Blue Room. The tree here was considered the "official" White House Christmas tree. I don’t know what distinguished it from the several dozen other trees spread throughout the house, or whether the title went with the Blue Room itself. This tree, according to the brochure we received, was a Fraser fir from Lehighton, Pennsylvania. It certainly looked resplendent.
Could the Twelve Mile Circle audience guess the name of this room? Why yes, of course, it was the Red Room, the most distinctly hued of the three colored rooms. The Red Room was associated with Dolly Madison in particular, wife of the fourth President of the United States, James Madison. Christmas decorations mirrored the crimson theme, with strands of cranberries and garlands of red apples and pomegranates. I know it was probably terrible that all I could think of was REDRUM from The Shining whenever I heard Red Room. I didn’t want to say anything out loud though. I’m sure the Secret Service agents wouldn’t have appreciated it.
State Dining Room
I think I liked the State Dining Room most off all, with its giant nutcrackers and a scaled version of the White House made of gingerbread. This was a smaller space than the East Room and was used for more intimate receptions.
Before long, once completing our leisurely stroll through the public rooms, we found ourselves out on the front lawn. It amazed me to stand right there in front of the White House at such a famous, iconic position. What an incredible privilege. How many other nations open the homes of their leaders to public tours?
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours.