White House Holidays

The Green Room of the White House is decorated for the holiday season during a press preview of holiday decorations. Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

Before she left last month for Washington, D.C., Wendy Herrick hung a sign at her Topsham business explaining why it would be closed for a week.

“Closed for Decorating the White House,” the sign said.

Herrick, owner of Wendy Herrick Floral Designs and Tuxedo Rentals, was chosen as one of 150 volunteers who would descend on the White House to turn it into a Christmas wonderland this year.

The task was not small: 77 Christmas trees had to be decorated, and 25 wreaths created. The State Dining Room, Blue Room, Red Room, Green Room, China Room, Vermeil Room, East Room, the library, and the East Colonnade hall – not to mention archways, doorways and the Grand Foyer – were adorned with 12,000 ornaments, 1,600 bells, 14,865 feet of ribbon and 83,615 lights.

A native of Connecticut, Herrick has worked as a floral designer in Maine for 27 years. She saw an online invitation to volunteer to be a White House Christmas decorator, and applied.

She had never been to the White House before.


“I wanted to go for the experience,” Herrick said. In October, she learned that of 10,000 applications, she was one of the 150 selected. Volunteers were chosen from each state.

The White House was bustling with designers, she said. Secret Service agents were everywhere. Carpenters and electricians were on hand to help. “There was so much going on,” she said.

Wendy Herrick of Topsham sits in the decorated Red Room at the White House. Herrick was among the 150 volunteers who decorated the White House for Christmas. Submitted by Wendy Herrick

The designs were planned months ahead, giving volunteers direction on what first lady Jill Biden had in mind.

The first lady chose this year’s theme – “We the People,” which was all about unity. That theme not only made its way into the designs, Herrick said, it was in the atmosphere.

“I worked with a gentleman on the entryway to the East Wing. He works on sets for the Country Music Awards,” she said. “He was super helpful in the archway. It was neat to have a lot of different people with different talents. I made so many friends.”

She and other designers were organized into teams and given certain sections of the White House to decorate.


“I was on the Starbright Team,” Herrick said, and assigned the East Wing entryway. They embellished it with greens and twigs, a style Herrick said she loved and that she’s incorporated in holiday arrangements at her Topsham shop. Her team also worked on Gold Star trees in the East Wing, which honor members of the military and military families.

A week after the designers started, the White House was ready. Jill Biden did a walk-through and was pleased, Herrick said, and didn’t ask for any changes.

The next day volunteers met with the first lady at a reception. “She was so genuine, nice,” Herrick said. “She thanked everybody. She said what the theme was all about was unity.”

Some of Herrick’s favorites were the Blue Room, with an 18-foot, 6-inch tall fir tree from a Pennsylvania Christmas tree farm. The tree is so tall that a huge, crystal chandelier had to be removed. The tree features ornaments of birds of each state and territory, including Maine’s chickadee, Herrick said.

The China Room was embellished with reds and a theme that represented family cooking traditions. The Christmas tree is decorated with recipe cards, which volunteers filled out. “Mine was hot dog soup,” Herrick said with a laugh.

But one of the spaces with the most wow factor was the East Colonnade, Herrick said. The hall was all white with birch trees and snow, woodland animals such as owls and rabbits, snowballs and suspended small round mirrors.


White House Holidays

Cross Hall in the White House is decorated for the holiday season. Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

The first lady unveiled the Christmas White House to the national press on Nov. 28.

The decorated rooms have been widely photographed. The photographs are beautiful, but they don’t do it justice, Herrick said. “It looks so much better in person.”

An estimated 50,000 people will take free 45-minute tours of the decorated White House, although reservations had to be submitted 90 days in advance.

But don’t despair: An Associated Press video tour  is also available on the White House website.

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