If a picture is worth a thousand words, here is a small book’s worth of stories about what one glimpses in the White House when one’s lucky enough to be among the few thousands of guests invited to the President’s annual holiday party.
Along with me to experience this were friends who had never before been to the White House, let alone a party there – Tom Shephard and Ellen Mulligan. And a third friend, Rich Burns, suddenly emerged from the Green Room, making an even happier coincidence. Along the way, encountered again or for the first time were the White House chef Sam Kass, Huffington Post owner Arianna Huffington, and Susan Eisenhower who grew up in this mansion, granddaughter of Ike and Mamie, otherwise known as the President and Mrs. Eisenhower.
After passing muster through several security checkpoints, one enters the East Wing, its long corridor bright with lights and greenery, the famous movie theater serving as a coat check. Even freshening up is an experience of history here: the men’s is located in the Library and the women’s in the Vermeil Room, both on the ground floor (photos of these will be added later, a temporarily tech glitch the culprit). Ascending the stairs and following the din, one turns right – and right into the massive, merry East Room. Here are the buffet tables, groaning with perhaps the best roast beef ever tasted in America, along with root vegetables so well-scrubbed and trimmed anyone would dive for them. Of course, the worthiest table of all – two actually – flank the long buffet table. Here stand the desserts, including berry cobblers, chocolate cake, iced cookies and pies. All of these pale to the hero of the night….the fondant-frosted cocoanut-sprinkled Christmas Cake.
Passing into the Cross Hall, which transects the North Entrance, the sound of holiday songs rings out courtesy of the Marine Band. The notoriously intoxicating and legendary White House Eggnog fuels many a giddy gabfest and political debate in the three smaller staterooms – the Green Room, the Blue Room and the Red Room – and there’s more sustenance in the State Dining Room at the far west end. Here is also the annual creative vision of the pastry chef’s gingerbread house, often referencing a place of history or personal to the President.
Upon entering, all guests receive a card with a designated time, indicating when to return to the ground floor corridor and wait in line to shake hands with the President and Mrs. Obama. Bad timing led to a missed opportunity for that, at first. The greatest possible gift of the season was the second chance granted by an incredibly busy but thoughtful former staff member to Michelle Obama and current staff members. The brief exchange and some thoughts on that moment will be published when the photograph of that moment arrives. In the meanwhile, enjoy these images and your own Christmas, Hannukah, Saturnalia or long mid-winter’s rest.
To see additional photographs go to: More Photos from the White House Christmas Party (Part II).