White House Christmas

We are in the midst of the December television traditions that have taken root in our homes over the years. Specials and spectaculars crowd the TV listings from Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade right on through the Mummer’s strut up Broad Street on New Year’s Day,. You can’t miss Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney’s classic “White Christmas,” or Darren McGavin’s notorious Chorus Girl’s leg lamp or, for that matter, George C. Scott’s masterful interpretation of Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge.

Scrooge is a character celebrating his 172nd birthday and going stronger than ever, beloved by the public and the hundreds of actors who have paid their Christmas bills playing the role of that irascible miser.

I’m feeling a bit of the “Bah! Humbug!” spirit myself, having spent an hour watching this year’s “White House Christmas” special on HGTV, co-sponsored by the White House Historical Association. I am usually a sucker for Christmas schmaltz and go soft at the first sound of “Silver Bells” or “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” And with all the nastiness President and Mrs. Obama put up with all year, the last thing they need is a good Democrat knocking their taste in Christmas decorations in their White House.

But there comes a time when you have to stand up for the stuff that matters, and Christmas at the White House is such a time. It’s been my good fortune to visit the White House a fair number of times, on days of heady history as well as quiet news days. It is unique in its beauty, its majesty, and its reflection of our people. Also in the skullduggery and peccadillos of our politicians, as well as their greater qualities. This is where the likes of Thomas Jefferson, both Roosevelts, Truman and JFK lived and worked. Slaves built it, and the descendants of slaves preside over it gracefully today in the persons of first lady Michelle Robinson Obama and Presidential daughters Malia and Natasha.

Like so many Americans, I feel a vague but persistent obligation to protect the White House. I remember the incongruous resentment I felt at President Johnson when, in a stage-managed show of economy, he ordered numerous lights to be turned off, including the outside lighting that kept the White House brilliant on the darkest nights. It seemed downright disrespectful, even clandestine, especially after the bright lights of the Kennedy Administration.

That same protective urge leads me to protest the tasteless excess of this year’s decorating binge as shown on HGTV’s recent special co-sponsored by the White House Historical Association. The program showed an army of eager volunteers swarming into the White House with boxes of ornaments, displays, wreathes, garlands, balls and kitschy glitter that turned that elegant home into the pipe-dream of a tacky department-store show window designer. No surface was left uncluttered; no eyesore unused.

The White House Historical Association is a prestigious and hardworking non-profit founded in 1961 with a strong impetus from then first-lady Jackie Kennedy. Its current Vice President and Chief White House Historian Dr. Bill Bushong, who once spent half a day giving me a personal tour of the Decatur House on Lafayette Square, has labored in the dusty bins of White House history for years, working to keep the story of the White House fresh and vibrant for all Americans. I admire his dedication, and that of his organization.

Michelle Obama, also, has been a leading figure in making the White House special to thousands and thousands of visitors, from school kids planting vegetables on the South Lawn to the families of thousands of servicemen and women, and making sure they get full access to the many special events in their honor.

I admire their work, and can only hope that next year, they will be able to restrain the unseemly excess of whatever elves stapled chicken wire and hanging plastic icicles and plastic snowflakes to the ceiling of the east colonnade hallway, populated the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden with Styrofoam snowmen, and otherwise over-egged the Christmas pudding.

© 2015 Joseph T. Wilkins

Joe Wilkins, N.J. Press Association award-winning columnist, is a semi-retired lawyer and former municipal judge who lives in Smithville, NJ. His most recent book is “Kennedy’s Recruit”. He is also author of “The Speaker Who Locked up the House”, an acclaimed historical novel about Congress set in the Washington of 1890, and “The Skin Game and other Atlantic City capers”, a richly comic account of the stick-up of an illegal card game as Atlantic City’s casino age began. All 3 are available on Amazon’s Kindle. To send Joe your comments, Email him at wilkinsjt001@comcast.net, or visit his website at www.josephtwilkins.com

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