President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden have canceled traditional White House holiday party plans and will instead host ‘Holiday Open Houses’ for visitors to view the decorations in the executive mansion.
‘Anyone who knows the Bidens knows how much they enjoy hosting and celebrating the holidays. In the coming days, we will host a limited number of Holiday Open Houses, inviting guests to see the Christmas decorations in person at the White House,’ Jill Biden’s spokesman Michael LaRosa told DailyMail.com.
‘It is disappointing that we cannot host as many people as the Bidens would like to, but as we have done since Day 1 of the Biden Administration, we will continue to implement strong COVID protocols, developed in consultation with our public health advisors,’ he added.
The invites are for a walking tour of the holiday decorations on the ground floor and state floor of the executive mansion. They arrived as the coronavirus cases continue to rise around the country and the Omicron variant picks up speed.
The invite sent to Capitol Hill, via the Office of Legislative Affairs and seen by DailyMail.com, requires visitors to ‘attest to your vaccination status. If you are fully vaccinated, you do not need to test in advance of this tour.’
It also asks anyone who is not vaccinated to get tested 48 hours in advance and to stay home if they are showing symptoms. Guests can take their own FDA-approved test or use the White House testing center.
‘This is a self-guided tour and you will have 30 minutes to complete your tour. Please note that the President and First Lady will not be present during this tour,’ the invite says.
The White House has not sent invites to Capitol Hill for a traditional party, congressional sources told DailyMail.com. Typically presidents – including Donad Trump and Barack Obama – host members of Congress for a black tie holiday party known as the Congressional ball.
‘Obviously, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. We’re still taking precautions as it relates to large events,’ White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.
She didn’t say holiday parties were canceled but noted the White House will celebrate the holiday ‘through a variety of ways.’
The administration’s move comes as Omicron cases tripled over the weekend, from 43 across 22 US states on Saturday to 153 cases in 30 states on Monday, according to Centers for Disease Control data.
Psaki emphasized COVID safety protocols will be in place.
‘Of course we’re going to continue to implement COVID protocols so it doesn’t look exactly like it has always looked here but we are going to continue to celebrate, to embrace the holiday season and look for ways we can do that,’ she said at her daily press briefing.
The holiday season is traditionally one of the busiest times of year for any administration. It’s not uncommon for there to be an event – sometimes even two – during every day of December with thousands of people trapping through the White House by the time the season is done.
During such events guests are free to walk around and take in the decor along with partaking in much food and drink.
Tours offer a safer option to see the decorations as opposed to a party – they are timed so the number of people can be limited and spread out. Additionally the White House requires face masks to be worn on its premises as another safety precaution.
The holiday season is an excellent time for presidents to woo lawmakers, thank staff and treat donors.
Past holiday receptions usually had a few hundred guests – many traveling from out of town – and the first couple typically put in an appearance.
While the parties may seem superficial, they have different meanings to different guests: staffers get to bring their families to see their workplace, donors get a return on their investment and longtime supporters get a thank you – and all the guests typically get a souvenir picture with the first couple.
Joe and Jill Biden inviting guests to tour White House to view the Christmas decorations instead of hosting holiday parties
A giant bow and gift boxes greet visitors arriving to the White House’s East Wing this holiday season; Jill Biden revealed this year’s holiday theme as ‘Gifts from the Heart’
Omicron is now in 33 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, including far off Alaska, as the mutant strain that has dominated the world in recent weeks continues its rampant spread across America
The Omicron COVID-19 variant (purple) now accounts for 3% of U.S. Covid cases, up from less than one percent last week. The Delta variant (orange) is still the nation’s dominant strain, accounting for 97% of new cases, per CDC data
But the coronavirus pandemic continues to up-end plans for in-person gatherings.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers this advice for holiday gatherings: get vaccinated if eligible, wear a mask in crowded indoor places, get tested, stay six feet apart from people who don’t live with you, and avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
Additionally, the country is facing a difficult holiday season with inflation at its highest point in nearly forty years and supply shortages making certain items difficult to obtain.
Despite this, Jill Biden said on Friday that Americans will have a ‘very happy holiday.’
‘They’re going to have a very happy holiday,’ Biden said to DailyMail.com at a Toys for Tots event when asked if Americans can have a happy holiday with Omicron and inflation.
The first lady unveiled her holiday decorations two weeks with the theme of ‘Gifts from the Heart.’
This year’s decorations include a collection of Christmas trees filling the halls of the White House, stacks of books, floating candles, and trees featuring photographs of previous first families. Those photos include the previous White House occupant – Donald and Melania Trump. There is a photo of the former first couple receiving the official White House Christmas tree on display.
‘For all of our differences, we are united by what really matters like points on a star we come together at the heart. That is what I wanted to reflect in our White House this year,’ Jill Biden said of the theme.
Last year, as COVID cases raged across the country and vaccines were not yet widely available, then-President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump held up to two holiday events a day in most of December with nary a mention of masks on the invites.
The Trumps went all out for their last holiday season in the White House, planning a full spray of holiday parties celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah and other religious holidays.
Pictures posted to social media showed crowded events with few guests wearing face masks.
Trump was criticized for his move but defended the parties, saying ‘frankly, we’ve reduced the number very substantially, as you know. And I see a lot of people at the parties wearing masks.’
President Trump waved to guests as he walked downstairs alongside First Lady Melania at one of the many White House Christmas parties held last year during the COVID pandemic
Ivanka chatted with visitors at one of last year’s holiday parties
Donald Trump defended his decision to hold crowded holiday parties last year
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump at one of the black-tie events the Trump White House hosted during the holiday season
This year’s White House holiday decorations are more low key than in the Trump years. There are fewer trees and they are smaller than in past years. The bling factor was notably less with fewer lights. Jill Biden kept the decor simple focused on her love of books and nature.
Decorating the 55,000 square foot White House involved 41 Christmas Trees, 6,000 feet of ribbon, more than 300 candles and over 10,000 ornaments.
Biden also kept the COVID pandemic in mind as she planned out the holiday.
Even the famous Gingerbread White House – which is on display in the State Dining Room – paid tribute to frontline workers with eight detailed replicas of community buildings: a grocery store, school, post office, warehouse, hospital, fire station, police station, and gas station.
On the school house building is a working school bell and two doves named Peace and Unity, in accordance with the holiday theme.
Pastry chef Susan Morrison said Dr. Biden, a community college professor, placed a gingerbread school teacher next to the school house on the display.
‘One of the last things we had placed on the White House display was placed by Dr. Biden and that was the school teacher right here. We know how it is near and dear to her heart. So we left her place the last special piece on the display yesterday,’ she said.
Photos of former first families were included on the decorations on the two trees in the State Dining Room; Jill Biden also included personal family photos
The official White House Christmas tree is on display in the Blue Room
YUM: The Gingerbread White House and village is made of 55 sheets of baked gingerbread, 120 pounds of pastillage, 35 pounds of chocolate, and 25 pounds of royal icing
The Gold Star Tree sits in the East Landing of the White House; it honors members of the military who died in service to the country and their families
The White House East Colonnade of the White House is decorated with peace doves
Social Secretary Carlos Elizondo said the White House didn’t experience too many supply chain problems getting holiday decorations although some of the topiaries took longer to arrive.
‘We didn’t have too much problems with supply chain but there were some items that were backed up, obviously just like everybody else is experiencing in the country. But we did manage to source everything before the reveal,’ he said.
The White House recycles many of its decorations, using ones from Christmases past.
The Bidens, who are spending their first holiday season in the White House as president and first lady, said they wanted the holiday decor to focus on ‘faith, family and friendship’ – which transcended even the ‘contraints’ of the COVID pandemic.
‘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. These are the gifts that tie together the heart strings of our lives. These are the Gifts from the Heart,’ Jill Biden and President Joe Biden wrote in a welcome letter at the beginning of the commemorative 2021 White House Holiday Guide.
Public tours of the White House remain suspended due to COVID, but videos, photos and details about the Christmas decorations are available at WhiteHouse.gov/Holidays.
Throughout the holiday season, the White House will also provide interactive viewing experiences via Instagram, Google Maps Street View, Snapchat and other platforms, the East Wing said.