Washington, D.C. has been popping with holiday parties this month, but the most coveted tickets in town were for the White House soirees. This holiday season President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have hosted 17 parties and 11 open houses for members of Congress, White House staff, journalists and tourists from around the country—racking up to 50,000 holiday visitors in total. Among these guests were ESSENCE Washington Correspondent Cynthia Gordy, Executive Editor Dawn Baskerville and Deputy Editor Tatsha Robertson, who were on tap for the White House holiday party for print journalists.
The official White House Christmas Tree arrives at the North Portico of the White House on November 27, 2009 in Washington, DC.
After waiting in a winding line outside the Treasury Building with very tight security and—in keeping with the strict guidelines reinstated after the State Dinner “gatecrashers”—a closely monitored guest list, we entered the White House through the East Entrance. Walking through the foyer, filled with jubilant classical music from a teenage string ensemble, guests were personally greeted by Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, who shook every hand before directing us to the main event.
The White House’s first floor was open for roaming, so guests walked from room to room checking out the holiday finery, official portraits, display cases of presidential china and silverware, the impressively detailed gingerbread White House.
Here’s a shot of ESSENCE Executive Editor Dawn Baskerville in the Vermeil Room, by Jacqueline Kennedy’s famous White House portrait painted by Aaron Shickler.
The White House holiday decorations include six living Christmas trees. Here’s Washington Correspondent Cynthia Gordy by one in the Vermeil Room, and behind her is the official White House tree in the Blue Room. Décor throughout the House was understated, drawing from natural materials such as pinecones, garlands and berries.
In the East Room, we were treated to swinging jazz versions of holiday tunes, performed by the Eli Yamin Quintet, and amazing eats including sushi, roast beef and sugar cookies shaped like Bo the First Dog. And though the party was packed with journalists and members of the Obama administration, including Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, the vibe was cheerful, fun and loose (the rather strong eggnog may have also had a hand in this)!
And where were the President and First Lady during the festivities? They spent the whole time working a long receiving line, where everyone had a chance to take a photo with them. Despite hours of picture taking, and with hundreds of journalists who scrutinize them daily, President Obama and Mrs. Obama were in good spirits, graciously shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries before each camera flash. “Let’s get in close!” Mrs. Obama said laughingly before our official photo, which will be distributed by the White House.
On the way out, I stopped to put a wish in the White House “Wishing Tree,” a nine-foot cardboard construction with slots for inserting colorful, rolled up pieces of paper with personalized wishes written on them. Left to right: ESSENCE Executive Editor Dawn Baskerville, Washington Correspondent Cynthia Gordy and Deputy Editor Tatsha Robertson outside the East Entrance at the surreal, yet fun-filled, night’s end. Happy holidays!