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We have a long (and always growing) list of trips we want to take, from which we create and build our travel dreams. One dream that had been shining at the top of the list for quite some time was a Christmas visit to the White House. We love the holidays, and — politics and partisanship aside — admire the elegance and importance of the White House. We knew visiting while it is decked in its holiday finest would be a memorable treat.

But, as we have discovered in the past, wanting to visit the White House and getting to visit the White House are two very different things. Before we get to the holiday magic we saw inside The People’s House, let’s look at what it takes to get in the door.

How to visit the White House

To arrange a White House visit, you need to contact the office of your congressional representative. Requests can be submitted up to three months in advance of your anticipated travel dates, which means you may be booking your trip to DC before you know if you will get approved for a White House visit. However, the sooner you apply the better, because the tours only allow a limited number of people each day. If you want to take a tour at Christmastime, send in your request in September.

Your chances of securing a tour spot will be better if you can designate multiple days on your trip when you would be available for a tour. Once the request is submitted by the office of your representative, White House Tours will contact you for security information. Unfortunately for advance planners, the outcome of your request won’t be known until 10 to 14 days before your date(s). If the White House visit is only a part of a planned DC visit, then it may not be a big deal. But if a White House tour is the sole or primary reason for your trip, that late notice could create some last-minute adjustments to your plans. Tours are typically scheduled for Tuesday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and on Fridays and Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tours are free, but subject to change due to White House scheduling and events that cannot be foreseen.

Planning our holiday White House visit

The official White House Christmas tree is usually delivered the day after Thanksgiving, when decorating the property for Christmas is in full swing. The seasonal décor is ready for public viewing a few days after Thanksgiving. Our request for a Christmastime tour was submitted on Sept. 10 for a Dec. 11, 12 or 13 visit. We found out via email on Friday, Nov. 30 that we were approved and accepted for our visit.

With that approval in hand, we found a cheap Spirit Airlines flight into Baltimore for $64. Normally, we would have used 5,000 Spirit miles to cover the fare, but because we were so close to our travel date, reward booking fees were more than the actual cost of the flight, so that strategy didn’t work. Thankfully, there are plenty of affordable hotels in Baltimore using points or cash. Since we arrived pretty late in the evening, we just booked a decent cash rate at the Aloft BWI Baltimore Airport and rested for the night. The same hotel (a Category 3 Marriott property) can be booked for 17,500 Marriott points.

Once we headed to Washington, DC, we stayed at to the Hyatt Place White House, which we have visited in the past. It is within easy walking distance to the White House, includes free breakfast and only costs 15,000 World of Hyatt points per night. The nearby Grand Hyatt Washington is also a good choice at 15,000 World of Hyatt points per night, especially if you have access to its club lounge (which our daughter, Mommy Points, has scored for us on some trips). Either could be booked with a Hyatt Category 1–4 award from the World of Hyatt Credit Card, though we just used points earned from that card on this trip.

To avoid spending extra time, money and an additional night in the DC area, we ponied up $200+ each for a United nonstop evening flight home from Washington National directly to our home airport in Houston. It wasn’t a great deal financially, but maximized our time and energy during the busy holiday season.

Visiting the White House at Christmas

As the precious few days passed from our approval to our departure, we held our breath that our tour would not be affected by a Christmas cancellation. Even as we approached the tour entrance, we kept one eye out for unusual Secret Service movement and the other eye scanning our phone looking for breaking news that might bear bad tidings. Fortunately, we were greeted by an open gate and a welcoming gesture and into the line we went.

The Secret Service officer checked our IDs and cross-checked the master list to verify if we were indeed on “the nice list.” Three additional screenings later and we were ready to enter the White House.

The tour enters from the East Wing, where we passed through a hallway that led to the first of many grand Christmas trees. The initial tree was dedicated to the Gold Star families of our armed forces and was decorated in red and blue ribbons and rich gold ornaments.

Gold Star Families White House Christmas tree

Gold Star Families White House Christmas tree ornament

As we turned the corner, we came up the East Colonnade, which was lined on both sides with bright red berry trees of varying heights naturally lit by the multiple large windows that look out into the Kennedy Garden. The trees had received some unfavorable reviews when first introduced, and we were curious as to what our impression would be in person. When standing in front of the trees, we found them to be colorful, festive and appropriate for the season. A muted green carpet provided a seasonal balance to the somewhat narrow walkway. Judging by the number of photos being taken of the trees, they seem to be a hit with the crowd. Fortunately, cameras (with some limitations) are permitted on the White House tour.

White House Christmas red berry trees

The next interesting encounter was the display of official White House Christmas cards from presidents over the past 91 years. Sixteen administrations were covered; their choices reflected not only each president’s personal style and attitude, but also graphically illustrated the number of Christmases each experienced as the leader of our country. Eisenhower, Reagan, Bush 43, Clinton and Obama all had eight cards. Johnson and Nixon had five, Carter and Bush 41 had four, Ford had three, Kennedy only two and Trump also had two. We found this exhibit to be a poignant and educational history lesson with a direct seasonal correlation.

White House Christmas cards

After this point we physically entered the White House proper and enjoyed rooms with familiar names: the China Room, the Vermeil Room and the Library. Of these three, the Library was my personal favorite. The room emitted a warm and comfortable glow, and one could easily imagine a classic Christmas carol playing quietly in the background.

The White House Library at Christmas

The White House China Room at Christmas

Next, we ascended to the state floor via a significant wooden stairway to the East Room, the largest and most utilized room in the Executive Mansion. It has been the site of press conferences, Medal of Honor presentation ceremonies, entertainment, weddings, funerals and even a senior prom. Large chandeliers, grandiose garlanded mirrors and gold-hued drapes elegantly highlighted the room while two 14-foot fir trees flanked a traditional Nativity scene that was in its 51st year of display. The East Room traditionally is quite spacious and open with few furnishings.

White House East Room at Christmas

White House East Room at Christmas

After exiting the East Room, the famous Red, Green and Blue rooms were only steps away. The Green Room now serves as a parlor for small receptions. Its decorative theme for the holidays illustrated and highlighted the great work ethic of American farmers and the fruits of their labor. Harvested produce, grains and nuts were found in the garland on the mantle, the boughs of the tree and as accents on the tables.

The White House Green Room at Christmas

The oval-shaped Blue Room is an elegant, handsome and inviting space that most would love to have in their own homes. It occupies the center of the White House, and its windows look out onto the South Lawn and toward the Washington and Jefferson monuments. The Blue Room is often used by the president to receive guests, but during Christmastime, this room proudly plays host to the official White House Christmas tree. When viewing the White House from outside, the 18-foot North Carolina-grown Fraser fir is easily seen through the South Portico.

White House Blue Room at Christmas

The Blue Room just feels like what I think of when I envision the best of America, and the tree there was decorated to enhance this ambience. A long continuous blue velvet ribbon curled itself throughout the tree with the names of all the states and territories proudly embroidered with a rich gold thread. Red and gold ornaments filled the green branches that reached toward and touched the ornate ceiling medallion.

(As an aside, the Blue Room, due to its shape and position in The White House, might lead an outsider to assume this is where the Oval Office must be located. In reality, the Oval Office is not in the White House proper, but down in the West Wing in an area not visible to the public.)

The Red Room’s bold color grabs your total attention as you enter its doorway. The centerpiece tree was adorned with ornaments depicting popular activities of American youth ranging from sports to drama to music. The contrast of the white Italian marble fireplace and mantle with the red, green and white garland spray was simply stunning and, in keeping with the spirit of the tree, fun.

White House Red Room at Christmas

A meal is sadly not included in the White House tour, but, if it was, the State Dining Room would be the logical place for it to be served. It can accommodate over 100 guests, but my blue jeans likely would have needed a serious upgrade. Eagles support the furniture and topped the trees in homage to one of our national symbols. A large edible gingerbread creation sat under one of the classic White House mirrors and depicted famous monuments and structures on the National Mall. The piece was made with almost 400 pounds of ingredients by the pastry team.White House State Dining Room at Christmas

White House State Dining Room at Christmas

And, if the White House had not already impressed you enough with its Christmas trappings, when we passed the Kennedy portrait into the Entrance and Cross halls, we came upon an indoor forest of Christmas treasure.

White House Christmas (Kennedy portrait)

Thousands of red ornaments lined the hallway and graced the trees’ deep green branches. The scene was so rich with Christmas spirit that we fully expected Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney to come out from behind the trees singing “White Christmas” at any second. The projected light on the ceiling added sparkle and pizzazz to a room that was already a full holiday palette. The presidential seal rising above the multilayered décor was a popular photo op for all.

White House Christmas

White House Christmas

White House Christmas trees

This space was about 2,500 square feet of elegance and color. It was hard to absorb it all in the time allotted, but easy to love. We were the last two to leave for the day, and we lingered and looked as much as we could. We could have easily spent longer reflecting on all we had seen, but the business of the White House had to go on.

White House Christmas

It was such a privilege and thrill to tour “The People’s House” at Christmas. Even though we are very common people, we felt special because we had this opportunity. It was a great Christmas gift, indeed.

Other holiday sights in Washington, DC

The White House tour was the reason for the trip, but since we were there, we also took full advantage of some other DC Christmas traditions and offerings that we would recommend to others, including visiting the trees at the US Capitol, the Supreme Court and Union Station. US Capitol at Christmas (White House)

The United States Botanic Garden had a beautiful display of scale model monuments made entirely of plant material. The same artistic skill and methods were used to build the famous American train depots that were central to the garden’s themed “All Aboard” model train exhibit.

Christmas at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, DC

Christmas at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, DC

We spent part of one evening at the National Christmas Tree located on The Ellipse between the White House and Washington Monument. The tree is surrounded by 56 smaller trees that border a winding walkway and represent each state and territory. Trains are also an integral part of the National Tree display, with multiple sets surrounding the tree’s base. Live entertainment is frequently offered, and at dusk, the atmosphere is magical as the red and green lights of the tree glow in the foreground with either the lights of the White House or the evening sky in the background.

National Christmas tree Washington, DC

National Christmas tree Washington, DC

Overall, we were blessed with good weather, grand sights and memorable moments. We departed for the trip full of Christmas spirit and came back with even more.

And as an epilogue, our congressman was, coincidentally, on our Thursday evening flight home and our window seat paid dividends as we witnessed two shooting stars as we looked to the north. Or perhaps it was Santa making some practice runs before the big day? Anything is possible.

Grandpa Points at the National Christmas tree Washington, DC
Grandpa Points at the National Christmas Tree in Washington, DC

 

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