Goodbye eggnog, shrimp cocktail and pet-shaped sugar cookies.
The White House vacation scene has been darker this year under the shadow of COVID-19. President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden have replaced the crowded parties and overflowing buffets of the past with open houses without food, face masks and testing for the unvaccinated.
Beyond the impact on Biden’s first Christmas in power, the virus and its variants have largely put kibosh on the entire White House social scene for 2021, starting with an inauguration that positioned flags instead of people on the National Mall.
“I think it was very hard for them,” said Philip Dufour, who was vice president Al Gore’s social secretary. He noted that many events did not take place as the President and the First Lady made others on Zoom.
Major social events removed from the calendar included the White House Ball for the country’s governors and the Easter Egg Roll, the second year in a row that the spring ritual has been canceled.
The Democratic president has yet to toast a foreign counterpart at a lavish state dinner at the White House because he has yet to invite a world leader for a state visit. In fact, months passed before Biden could welcome a foreign leader into the Oval Office for even more low-key discussions.
Still, the White House has been successful in hosting some events despite the pandemic, such as bill signing and Medal of Honor ceremonies. The Bidens have also hosted large receptions for Hanukkah and for artists recognized by the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
But the pandemic’s biggest blow to the calendar came over Christmas, forcing the White House to review its holiday entertainment and cut the guest list.
“Anyone who knows the Bidens knows how much they love to organize and celebrate the holidays,” said Michael LaRosa, spokesperson for the first lady, announcing a limited number of open houses for guests at ooh and aah on Christmas trees and other decorations.
“It is disappointing that we cannot accommodate as many people as the Bidens would like, but as we have done since day one of the Biden administration, we will continue to implement strong COVID protocols, developed in consultation. with our public health advisers, ”says LaRosa.
In addition to fewer people passing by for open houses, thousands more couldn’t get a close look at how Jill Biden decorated the hallways and public rooms of the White House for the holidays because the public tours of the mansion remain undefined. .
“The White House is never as beautiful as it is at Christmas. It is simply stunning,” said Jeremy Bernard, who oversaw holiday decorating and event planning as Social Secretary to President Barack Obama. “It’s a shame more people can’t get through, but it’s the reality of being in a pandemic.”
Partly to make up for the lack of access, photos and an interactive tour of the decorations were uploaded to the White House website, and the first lady tweeted a video of herself describing the decor and theme in each of the rooms and public spaces.
She rekindled the long tradition that had escaped under the previous administration of opening the Executive Mansion for the PBS series, “In Performance at the White House”. A holiday-themed episode aired Tuesday night with Andrea Bocelli, Billy Porter, Norah Jones, the Jonas Brothers and others performing in various venues in the White House.
The first lady also recorded a children’s tour of the White House with characters from PBS KIDS.
Before the pandemic, presidents and first ladies spent many December evenings as Christmas approached to host nearly two dozen parties and receptions, sometimes two a day, where they stood in line for hours posing for photos with delighted guests.
Eggnog and adult drinks flowed freely, revelers stacked plates with shrimp and cocktail sauce, and dessert tables offered cookies decorated in the likeness of White House dogs, some of which were slipped in purses and pockets for the trip home.
All of that was deleted this year.
Instead, the Bidens invited groups of up to 100 people to open houses, giving them half an hour instead of the usual two to tour the decorations on the ground and public floors. There was no food or drink. There was also no photo taken with the Bidens, who did not attend.
Guests were required to certify their immunization status before showing up, wear a face mask at all times on White House grounds, and practice social distancing. Anyone who was not vaccinated had to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours of the event.
The final open house took place this week.
Sen Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn, suggested on Twitter that the White House was guilty of hypocrisy with open houses and shouldn’t have held them at all.
“Biden’s White House decision to cancel their holiday party” and instead hold a holiday open house “following Democrats’ tendency to signal virtue while simultaneously creating loopholes for themselves “Blackburn said in a written statement.
Jennifer Pickens, an event planner who wrote a book about Christmas at the White House, said holiday traditions can bring comfort and a sense of normalcy, and argued that the White House should continue to host celebrations. visitors during the pandemic.
Events “can be on a smaller scale and take place safely, but they must continue,” she said in an email. Pickens said the White House is the People’s House, “so the people should be there.
(Only the title and image of this report may have been reworked by Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)