The White House Christmas Party: A Betty Exclusive
Yes, it is a wonderful party!
I’m not trying to boast, but when you live in Possum Valley, let’s face it, an invitation to the White House does beat Friday-night bingo at the local firehouse. So, when BettyConfidential.com asked me to tell you about going to the Bushes’ last Christmas party in the White House this December 3rd, I thought, Why not answer the questions people want to know? So, here goes.
What does the White House look like at Christmas?
Like Santa decorated it himself.
Every year, the decorations change, but the effect is the same. Wow! This year, the theme was Red, White and Blue Christmas (you can read all about it and see drawings on the White House Web site. We walked into the White House between a pair of 12-foot-tall Uncle Sam nutcrackers guarding the doors. In the East Wing, there were red tulips and Santa in a big sleigh. Down the hallway, there were large toy drums filled with poinsettias the size of Shetland ponies. I don’t know how they grow them that large. I’m lucky if mine make it to Christmas Eve without looking like they barely survived a nuclear blast. On the second floor, huge Christmas trees glistened in every room covered in “snow” and dripping with beautiful ornaments. The White House Christmas tree stood in the Blue Room, decked out with decorations made by artists from every state. My favorite was the White House gingerbread house, which the White House chef makes every year using hundreds of pounds of chocolate and gingerbread. This year, it was all white chocolate and spectacular with marzipan fife-and-drum Revolutionary War soldiers standing out front and a sleigh with Barney, Miss Beazley and Willie, the White House cat, up on the rooftop.
What do you wear to a White House Christmas Party?
In my case, whatever I can get into. But you see a wide variety. Men wear suits, no tuxes. Why do they have it so easy? Some women were in gala dresses, lots of fluff and stuff. Other women broke out their cocktail dresses or dressy suits and some played it low-key, coming straight from the office. Believe me, the Bushes don’t care. They just want to sit down and take their shoes off. Why? Because they spend the entire party in a room on the first floor having their picture taken with all the partygoers.
Run by the military with characteristic precision, here’s what happens. When you arrive, one of the military aides gives you a card – red, white or blue, of course. When your color is called Very Quietly upstairs, you tiptoe down a set of wide marble stairs Very Carefully. Since I was two days out of a miserable cast for a broken ankle and in big-girl pumps, I held on to the railing for dear life. I’m sure the people behind me suspected I had had too much too drink, but I managed to reach the bottom without incident. Next, you join a long line. As you wait your turn, military aides check the spelling of your name, take your evening bag for safekeeping and escort you into the photo shoot. Another military aide introduces you to President and Mrs. Bush, who are standing in front of a lovely, beautifully decorated fireplace. I must point out that there are no do-overs when it comes to presidential photo taking. The whole thing takes maybe 15 seconds. It’s over and you’re ushered out before you’ve had a chance to say much more than “Merry Christmas, Mr. President.” I did offer up that I hoped he would enjoy retirement or at least not being in Washington. He laughed.
How’s the food?
The easy answer is terrific! Believe me, Martha Stewart on her best day couldn’t top the White House chefs and their staff of elves. Picture this. One long table in the State Dining Room, where all the black-tie dinners happen, and another just like it in the East Room, where everything from concerts to news conferences happen. The tables are covered on two sides, with dishes that tempt even the most dedicated dieter. Luckily I don’t fall into that category. Miniature lamb chops you eat with your fingers. Yay! Slices of tender beef tenderloin. Paper-thin sliced ham and little curlicues of smoked salmon. But the piece de resistance is a big crystal bowl of the biggest cold shrimp in the history of shrimp, and it magically is never empty. Really – never.
As if this cavalcade of calories weren’t enough – and it never is – there are also tables piled high with oodles of desserts that even people like me, always on a diet that doesn’t work, can’t resist. Buche de Noel cakes that look so real you don’t want to be the first to saw the log. Tall white cakes covered in coconut that looks like the snow on the Christmas trees that fill the rooms. Strawberries the size of golf balls for double dipping in melted chocolate. Warning: This could be risky if you’re dressed in winter white. And Christmas cookies, of course, in sparkling reds and blues – very patriotic munchies indeed.
I was lucky enough to have joined the festivities this year at the White House, but somehow I don’t think I’ll make the Obama cut next year. That’s OK. I’ve got plenty of wonderful memories. The White House is every American’s second home. And when it’s done up in its finest for the holiday season, there is no more beautiful place in the world … except maybe the North Pole. I hear Santa does a pretty good spread, too.
Ho. Ho. Ho. Merry Christmas from the Possum Valley Girl.
Chriss Winston was the first woman to head the White House Office of Speechwriting under the Presidency of George H.W. Bush.