White House unveils 2023 holiday decorations

The extravagant display, with a theme of "Magic, Wonder and Joy," will open to the public this Christmas holiday season.

The White House unveiled the 2023 holiday decorations this week, officially kicking off the Christmas season with an extravagant display that opens to the public in December.

Continuing a decades-long tradition at the White House, the Office of the First Lady took on the task of decorating the entire East Wing to spread some holiday cheer.

U.S. First Lady Jill Biden delivers remarks during the unveiling of the 2023 White House Holiday decor, in the Grand Foyer of the White House on Nov. 27, 2023, in Washington, D.C. The theme for the 2023 White House holiday decorations is The “Magic, Wonder, and Joy” of the Holidays. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

This year, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden selected the theme of “Magic, Wonder, and Joy,” encouraging Americans to tap into their inner child and embrace the holiday spirit, particularly during a time when many Americans are enduring hardship and the country remains politically divided. 

“The 2023 White House holiday theme is inspired by how children experience this festive season: completely present in the beauty and bounty around them, their senses alight, with hearts open to the magic, wonder, and joy of the holidays,” said the first lady in a joint statement with President Joe Biden.

This year’s holiday decorations, which theGrio was able to preview before opening up to the public, are comprised of 98 Christmas trees, over 142,425 holiday lights, approximately 14,975 feet of ribbon, over 350 candles, over 33,892 ornaments, and over 22,100 bells.

Each room in the East Wing has its own theme and seeks to compel visitors to embrace an element of childlike sensibilities from the White House Library room, which honors the tradition and “magic” of bedtime stories to the China Room, which has a sweet shop display that includes holiday cakes, cookies and gingerbread.

The White House is expecting as many as 100,000 Americans to visit for in-person tours; however, those unable to make it to the nation’s capital this holiday season will be able to interact with the displays virtually.

The Cross Hall is seen during the media preview of the 2023 Holidays at the White House decor on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. The theme of the holiday season is “Magic, Wonder and Joy,” inspired by “how children experience this festive season.” (Photo by Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

White House Social Secretary Carlos Elizondo told theGrio that this year’s theme was inspired by the classic children’s book, “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” which celebrates 200 years since its publication.

“What better way of wrapping up the holidays than magic, wonder, and joy? And I think the first lady wants everybody to sort of feel that,” said Elizondo. “Obviously, the children will be blown away, I think. But…I think other adults that come through the [White] House will have that same feeling. It will take you back.”

More than 300 volunteers, many of whom are military families, helped curate the White House’s decorations this year. Others included educators, architects and DIY professionals. 

“We could not do this without them,” Elizondo said. “This is such a huge undertaking…without the volunteers, we were not able to do [this].”

Vanessa Bahena, a second-year volunteer and DIY professional from Kentucky, said she hopes the children-inspired theme at the White House this season will inspire adults to embrace the holiday spirit and the child within.

“As adults, we don’t play enough. We don’t get dirty enough,” Bahena, who participated in this year’s decorations with her husband, told theGrio. “This is a perfect opportunity to craft in our homes. So many of the projects that we did here in the White House can be recreated at home for your own traditions, for your own style.”

Ornaments hang from the ceiling in the hallway between the East Wing and the Residence during the 2023 White House Holiday media preview on Nov. 27, 2023, in Washington, D.C. The theme for the 2023 White House holiday decorations is The “Magic, Wonder, and Joy” of the Holidays. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Bahena, the daughter of Central American and Mexican immigrants, said being at the White House was especially meaningful for her because her involvement and presence are a reminder that Black and brown Americans like her and her family belong just as much as anyone else. 

“They came to the U.S. looking for a better opportunity and so to be able to give them the joy of seeing us here, it just means a lot,” she said.

Bahena said she hopes that Americans who come to the White House to tour the decorations are inspired to embrace love and kindness this holiday season and beyond.

“I think love and kindness is really at the core, and it should be at the core of everything that we do,” she said. “You feel it in the White House, and I think there are so many ways for us to practice that in our own families and our own cultures at home.” 

She added, “It’s something I’m taking away, and I hope other people do too.”

As White House social secretary, Elizondo said he hopes Americans are moved to “bring a little bit of joy to people’s lives during this season,” which is what First Lady Biden intended to do with this year’s display.

“If you walk into the White House today, I think you all go away with a little bit more joy than you did when you walked in,” said Elizondo, “And I just think it’s a great message, especially for people who are having hard times.”

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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