|Me and the sis.|
Following on the news that Republicans are now concerned that the President is “too” Christian (since the White House is decorated beautifully for Christmas, and apparently beauty (and Christmas) are off-limits during a Depression), it seemed like a good time to report back from the White House Holiday (read: Christmas) Party that Joe and I were invited to last Friday night. Now I know some people are going to go all 99% on me, and that’s fine. But for the rest of you, I thought you might enjoy getting a sense of what it’s like to attend the White House Christmas Party, so this post is for you.
First, there is more than just one White House Christmas Party. In fact, from what I’ve been able to find, there are around a dozen, with some 12,000 guests overall (all, except the congressional party, I believe, were paid for by the DNC, so not taxpayer funds). There are parties for White House staf, the Secret Service, members of Congress, and the media, among others (there’s also a Hannukah party). The one Joe and I were invited to was for the print media. And it took place last Friday from 6pm to 9pm.
You arrive via the SE gate of the White House (south of the Treasury building), to a long line of people waiting to go through security (and you need to show an ID, and be checked off the guest list, just to get into that line). I was standing with my sister Kathy (each invitee is permitted one guest, you submit your social security number and some other info in advance so they can check you out), right behind the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, who looked like he was avoiding being recognized in big black sunglasses (the sun set an hour before), but in fact had just had eye surgery. I also had a nice chat with a London editor of the Economist, and Chris Johnson of the Washington Blade, all who were alongside me in line.
After about 15 minutes, we got to the check in, still outside, they check your ID, find you on the list, and you go next to the metal detector, which is surprisingly a lot faster, friendlier, and seemingly less intense than the airport. After that you enter the East Wing of the White House, are greeted by members of the military in full dress uniforms, all very friendly, and you drop off your coat at the coat check. You’re then given a ticket with a time on it – ours was 7:15pm – that’s when you come back to get your photo taken with the President and First Lady.
So, Kathy and I headed upstairs to go mingle and get a bite to eat before our photo.
|Bill Clinton official portrait|
At the top of the stairs is a large room with an official portrait of Bill Clinton on the far wall. The Marine band orchestra is playing Christmas music. I’ve been to a few events at the White House and there’s always been the Marine band playing, though this time it was quite a lot of them. They were wonderful. You’re immediately greeted by a (I’m not sure what the correct terms are – waiter?) in black tie offering you wine or champagne (we opted for champagne), then you mingle. (I posted a 4 second video, above, that I took of the Marine band orchestra – it wasn’t entirely clear to me whether we could shoot video or not, the evening was “off the record” but you could take photos, so I thought it wise to keep the video short as it could have recorded off-the-record voices.)
The initial large room flows into a long hallway, below. This is the hallway you the President walking down when he holds a press conference. At the west end of the hallway is the State Dining Room, where they hold the state dinners (it’s surprisingly small), and at the other end of the hallway (the east end) is the East Room, where they hold the presidential press conferences, and other events. Between these two rooms are the Red Room, the Blue Room, and the Green Room.
|The hallways connecting the East Room and the State Dining Room.|
Dinner (below) was served in the State Dining Room and the East Room, with a nice dessert spread as well (below). I’ll take you on a small tour…
|East Room. Dinner was some kind of roast (tasty), small potatoes, shrimp,
haricots verts (I believe), and I’m not sure what else – I was more interested in dessert.
|Dessert which included a wonderful Cherry Pie, Apple Pie,
Tiramisu, small chocolates, Christmas cookies and more.
The cherry pie was to die for, and quite uniquely flavored.
|One of the 37 Christmas trees, and a wonderful view of
the Washington Monument.
So, it’s around 7:05pm, and Kathy and I decide to head downstairs to get in line for our photo with the First Family. It’s a long line. And took, I don’t know, maybe 20 minutes or longer to go through. You just slowly move alone, and the White House staff was nice enough to put a table of food next to the line so guests could eat.
After a rather long wait, meandering through various rooms, you arrive in the room where the President and First Lady are. The Marine asks you how you want to be introduced (should he use your middle name, etc) and he walks you up to the President, you say hello and shake his hand, you greet the First Lady, you all smile for the camera, and bam it’s over, the Marine walks you away. Kathy read that it’s over in ten seconds. I barely even remember the President, it goes so fast, and you’re so caught up in the moment. My recollection is much better of Mrs. Obama, who is not only really pretty in person (her photos do her a serious injustice), but she’s also a lovely person. Even in those few seconds you feel like you really want to get to know this woman, she’s just so nice and chatty (and mind you, we were her 300th schmooz that hour).
Now, if the President speaks to you, you’re not supposed to report the details, those are the rules. The President and I had no conversation anyway, so there’s nothing to not report. Joe Sudbay, our deputy editor here on the blog, on the other hand, for the second year in a row did in fact have a brief but substantive conversation with the President, one the President himself initiated. (Remember, Joe was invited to interview President Obama at the White House for AMERICAblog in October of 2010, where he asked the President about various gay-related topics, and elicited is the person who elicited the “evolving” answer from the President on the issue of gay marriage.)
Sorry, I can’t report on Joe’s conversations with the President at last year’s and this year’s Christmas parties, but let’s just say that the President of the United States, more than a year after that interview, knew who Joe was (and lest you think the President’s briefed on the guests beforehand, maybe he is, but there are 600 of them coming through for ten seconds a shot, over a two hour period with no break that I’m aware of – it would have to be one hell of a briefing to cover everyone.)
And then, woosh, you’re out of the room, and you almost can’t believe any of it happened. Kathy told me later that she almost cried when she walked into the room with the President and the First Lady, the sense of history and pride in country was so overwhelming for her (and I have my suspicions about whether she even voted for him, so that’s why I find that tidbit interesting). I was thinking about it later, and realized the President had 300 flashbulb equivalents go off in his and the First Lady’s eyes during those two hours. Heck, it was more like 900 (I believe there were 3 flashes with our picture). I’d be curious to ask an eye doctor if that’s entirely safe for the eye.
|Sitting down to eat in the Blue Room (the faces are a bit
warped from people moving while I was shooting
|The Red Room, right next to the State Dining Room.|
|Panorama of the Red Room.|
|The Green Room.|
|Huge 400 pound gingerbread White House,
with Bo the dog sitting in front. There were
a lot of Bo-representations throughout the party.
|Kathy really wanted to meet Arianna Huffington,
being fellow Greeks. I like Arianna, always have
Smart as hell, and quite personable.
|A view of a Christmas tree in the first room upstairs, with
the Marine band orchestra barely visible behind.
It was a very nice affair, but in all fairness, as the Republicans now – of course – are claiming that it was “too opulent” of an affair (but boy those GOP members of Congress didn’t turn down the invite, did they), I’ve done “opulent” in Europe, long-tailed butlers and all. This Christmas Party was very nice. It wasn’t opulent. But even if it were, it’s the White House, not the local Denny’s. I want to be proud of the White House, and what it represents regardless of who’s President. I want it, expect it, to showcase our country to the world. And last, but not least, I’d argue that during a Depression is exactly the time I want Christmas to come just as it did before, no more no less. Life goes on.
Republicans really need to stop their war on Christmas :-)