Melania Trump’s Christmas decorations look weirdly normal. What’s gone wrong?

First lady ditches blood-red trees and icy branches in favour of unimpeachable look

The White House Christmas decorations, themed “America the Beautiful”. Photograph: Doug Mills/New York Times

The White House Christmas decorations, themed “America the Beautiful”. Photograph: Doug Mills/New York Times

 

In a one-minute video posted to Twitter on Monday, Melania Trump unveiled the theme of this year’s White House Christmas decorations, “America the Beautiful”, which she translated as green trees decorated with red, gold and silver ornaments and white lights, a style so traditional that it could grace the cover of Martha Stewart Living. The East Colonnade this year features simple black urns holding plumes of foliage and greenery from each state and territory.

The bold aesthetic choices that drew so much flak in Christmases past are noticeably absent. There are no blood-red trees, as there were in 2018, which could have come straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale. There is nothing akin to the icy, underlit branches of 2017 that turned the East Colonnade into what some likened to a barren, dystopian landscape.

This year, a toy train – the “White House Express” – circles a wreath placed on a centre table. Crafty ornaments bear the names of children from Maryland, Michigan and the Northern Mariana Islands. Other decorations celebrate “pioneers for gender equality”, as the first lady’s office put it, including the artist Georgia O’Keeffe.

One of the trees in the display features ornaments from each state and yellow ribbons. Photograph: Doug Mills/New York Times
One of the trees in the display features ornaments from each state and yellow ribbons. Photograph: Doug Mills/New York Times
A “White House Express” model train. Photograph: Doug Mills/New York Times
A “White House Express” model train. Photograph: Doug Mills/New York Times

This is Trump’s last Christmas at the White House as first lady, and if her tree trimmings seem unimpeachable by design, that may be the point. She received an early lump of coal in her stocking in September, when her former adviser Stephanie Winston Wolkoff published a tell-all memoir, Melania and Me.

Among the newsworthy comments Trump made in the book – and in secretly recorded conversations Winston Wolkoff released – was her complaint about the chore of the holidays, and her negative press coverage compared to her predecessor, Michelle Obama. Trump was heard on the recordings delivering a profanity-laced rant about “Christmas stuff” and decorations. “But I need to do it, right?” she added.

Trump has also been tasked with spreading cheer at a time when daily deaths from Covid-19 in the United States are approaching tallies not seen since the spring and many Americans are cancelling holiday plans out of fear of spreading the virus. Her decorations, including a snow-covered mini hospital and ornaments of a garbage truck, a nurse’s hat and a lab coat, nod to the pandemic and essential workers.

Melania Trump in the East Colonnade of the White House, where the decorations feature simple black urns holding plumes of foliage and greenery from each state and territory. Photograph: White House
Melania Trump in the East Colonnade of the White House, where the decorations feature simple black urns holding plumes of foliage and greenery from each state and territory. Photograph: White House
A re-creation of the White House made from 125kg of gingerbread dough, 50kg of pastillage dough, 13.5kg of gum paste, 11.5kg of chocolate and 11.5kg of royal icing. Photograph: Doug Mills/New York Times
A re-creation of the White House made from 125kg of gingerbread dough, 50kg of pastillage dough, 13.5kg of gum paste, 11.5kg of chocolate and 11.5kg of royal icing. Photograph: Doug Mills/New York Times
A Christmas tree and decorations in the Red Room of the White House. Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty
A Christmas tree and decorations in the Red Room of the White House. Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty

Early reviews of the decorations have been largely charitable. CNN highlighted a tree in the Vermeil Room with ornaments featuring a portrait of President John F Kennedy and sailing boats, and another tree in the library celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment to the US constitution, which gave women the right to vote, noting, “Significant thought and detail went into the Americana decorations.” The London Independent wrote: “Ms Trump and an army of volunteers put together a warmer, less edgy display that runs throughout the Executive Mansion.”

Even outlets that have been harshly critical of Trump’s take on the holidays couldn’t work up the energy this year. Consider this tepid headline from Mashable: “Melania Trump unveils her final White House Christmas decorations and they’re fine.”

The website gave grudging respect to Trump, and seemed almost disappointed not to carry on the recent holiday tradition, undertaken by much of the media, of skewering the White House Christmas design choices. “Playing it safe is probably a good strategy this year,” the article said. “This theme is harder to meme, for sure.” – New York Times, with additional reporting

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