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White House holiday decor honors COVID-19 frontline workers

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

The State Dining Room of the White House is decorated for the holiday season during a press preview of the White House holiday decorations, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON – Holiday decorations unveiled Monday for Joe and Jill Biden’s first White House Christmas honor frontline workers who persevered during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nurses, doctors, teachers, grocery store workers and others are recognized in this year's gigantic Gingerbread White House, which was made into a 350-pound (158.76 kilograms) gingerbread village with the addition of a school and police, fire and gas stations as well as a hospital, a post office, a grocery store and a warehouse to honor workers who stayed on the job.

Fewer people are likely to see the decked-out mansion in person this year, with public tours still suspended because of the continuing threat from COVID-19. But videos, photos and other details are available at WhiteHouse.gov/Holidays.

“Gifts from the Heart” is the theme.

In remarks thanking volunteers for decorating, the first lady explained the vision behind her theme, speaking of unity and her view that everyone comes together around faith, family and friendship, gratitude and service, and love for one's community.

“For all of our differences, we are united by what really matters,” she said. “Like points on a star, we come together at the heart. That is what I wanted to reflect in our White House this year. In each room, we tell a story of gifts from the heart.”

The first lady, a longtime community college professor, invited Maryland second graders for Monday's unveiling of the holiday decorations. They were inspired by people the president and first lady met while traveling around the country this year, according to the White House.

Frontline workers are also represented in the iridescent doves and shooting stars that illuminate the East Colonnade hallway, “representing the peace and light brought to us by all the front-line workers and first responders during the pandemic,” the guidebook says.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the White House holiday season in other ways, though it remained unclear how parties and receptions may be tweaked to compensate for it.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said parties will be held, though they will be “different” from years past. Some indication will come Wednesday when the president and first lady and Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, light a menorah to celebrate Hanukkah. Emhoff, who is Jewish, helped light the National Menorah on the Ellipse on Sunday.

Volunteers who decorated the White House came only from the surrounding area, instead of from all over the United States as in past years, because of COVID-19 concerns.

The White House also wasn't spared the supply shortages that many Americans are contending with. Some topiary trees took a little longer to arrive, said social secretary Carlos Elizondo.

The other showstopper of holidays at the White House is the official Christmas tree, an 18-foot-tall (5.5-meter-tall) Fraser fir that commands the Blue Room and is trimmed with white doves and ribbon bearing the names of all U.S. states and territories to celebrate peace and unity.

More than 100 volunteers decorated the White House, including the Oval Office, while the Bidens spent Thanksgiving week in Nantucket, Massachusetts. They trimmed 41 Christmas trees and hung some 6,000 feet (1,800 meters) of ribbon and more than 10,000 ornaments.

Twenty-five wreaths adorn the exterior of the White House, and nearly 79,000 lights illuminate the Christmas trees, garlands, wreaths and other holiday displays.

Christmas stockings for each of the Biden grandchildren — Naomi, Finnegan, Maisy, Natalie, Hunter and baby Beau — hang from the fireplace mantel in the State Dining Room, which celebrates family, while two trees in that stately room are decorated with framed Biden family photos and photos of other first families during the holiday season.

Many of the photos are personal favorites of Jill Biden, who picked them out of old family albums on trips home to Delaware, said Elizabeth Alexander, the first lady's communications director.

The decorations are the product of months of work by the first lady and her staff in the White House East Wing, starting as far back as June.

A second grade class from Malcolm Elementary School in Waldorf, Maryland, was invited to the White House and bantered with PBS Kids characters Martin and Chris Kratt from “Wild Kratts” and costumed characters Miss Elaina, Daniel Tiger, Molly of Denali, Arthur and Rosita from “Sesame Street.”

The first lady then read her children's book, “Don't Forget, God Bless Our Troops."

“Let's move on to happier things,” she said after stopping to ask the kids about their pets and one boy started talking about his dogs that had died.

She invited a local National Guard family whose daughter was among the second graders to highlight the role the Guard has played in the U.S. response to COVID-19, and military families spending the holidays away from loved ones.