My family and I have a relatively new tradition of traveling to iconic places around Christmas time. It all started close to home a few years ago with a visit to the Greenbrier Resort. Then we headed to New York to see the classic sights, such as the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and the Rockettes.
This year, my wife Jessica and my mother-in-law Tami bought tickets to see Madonna in concert in Washington, DC, in September, but that concert was postponed until the week before Christmas. For example, Jessica, a former employee of former West Virginia first lady Gayle Manchin, stopped by US Senator Joe Manchin’s office to request a tour of the White House.
Washington, DC, is one of my favorite cities. I am a lover of history, especially American history, and the beginnings of the federal government we have today. I walked around the entire city and most of its major museums, monuments and statues. I have been to the United States Capitol several times, both for business and pleasure. But I’ve never been to the White House before. The closest I’ve ever been is at the fence.
When I was a child, I was a voracious reader. At the age of 5, I told my father Denver that he no longer had to read to me, because I would read on my own. I never slept in the dark until my teens because I kept the touch lamp on low and read to myself to sleep.
I was also a lover of history from a very young age, thanks to my father who cultivated this love. When I was young reading about Civil War history, Dad gave me Civil War history magazines as Christmas presents. It was this early love of history that inspired me to become a journalist, where I wrote the first draft of West Virginia history.
I remember these specific memories because one of the books I fell asleep reading incessantly was a history of the White House, how each president used the historic residence and its role in American history. President George Washington commissioned its construction and oversaw its appearance, but he was never able to live there until the end of his second term. President John Adams (no relation, but still my favorite president) was the first president to live in the White House as the nation’s second president.
The building was burned by the British during the War of 1812, but not before First Lady Dolly Madison escaped with the valuables, including a portrait of Washington that is still on display today. This is the place where President Abraham Lincoln walked around in his pajamas, debating in his mind whether to sign the proclamation making West Virginia the 35th state.
Since the days of President Theodore Roosevelt, the White House has done more to shape the 20th century than any other building in the world. It’s an honor to get one of the tour slots. Approval takes some time, requires a background check, and getting final approval didn’t happen until two weeks after our trip. But it was worth all the obstacles.
It’s one thing to see the White House in person. It’s a whole different thing to see the White House at Christmas. We were able to drive past the National Christmas Tree, which came from the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. But you enter the White House through the East Wing, under a giant Christmas tree.
The decoration of the White House for the holidays is determined by the first lady, in this case First Lady Jill Biden. Working with the Executive Residence staff and more than 300 volunteers, they transformed the White House into a true Christmas wonderland. The theme was “Magic, wonder and joy.”
“The 2023 White House holiday theme is inspired by the way children experience this holiday season: completely present in the beauty and generosity around them, their senses awakened, their hearts open to “magic, to the wonder and joy” of the holidays. » » wrote President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden in a booklet explaining the themes of each historic room.
The Executive Mansion, as the White House was originally officially known, was filled with 98 Christmas trees, including trees honoring Gold Star families and fallen service members. The hallways were filled with candy canes and letters from children. The theme of the library was Christmas bedtime stories, the Vermeil (silver gilt in French) room featured a tribute to music and the United States Marine Band, also known as the President’s Own.
The East Room – where many historic receptions and bill signings took place – featured giant White House Advent calendars. The East Room also displays the famous portrait of Gilbert Stuart George Washington saved by First Lady Dolly Madison during the War of 1812.
In fact, that’s what really made visiting the White House special for me; seeing historical portraits of presidents and scenes from American history that I have only ever seen before in history books. Portraits of Presidents Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and – of course – John Adams.
My wife and mother-in-law were in Washington for fun. I tagged along on the business trip, stopping at the U.S. Capitol to meet with Sen. Joe Manchin’s new communications director and visit with Sen. Shelley Moore’s longtime communications director Capito, as well as inspect documents that can only be evaluated by visiting the Capitol in person.
We literally drove through a snowstorm on I-68 between the West Virginia-Maryland border and the west side of Cumberland, at one point taking two hours to travel 50 miles. I will never forget that. I’m sure Jessica and Tami will never forget seeing Madonna in concert last week. But I will never forget walking through the White House – the People’s House – and creating new Christmas memories and satisfying my love for American history and this great nation.
Steven Allen Adams can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org