OPINION: Critics Ignore White House Tradition To Smear Melania’s Christmas Trees

Jennifer Boswell Pickens | White House East Wing historian

For the second year in a row, there has been a lot of unbelievably harsh commentary and criticism concerning the design choice of Mrs. Trump’s Christmas decor in the East Wing colonnade.

This year, pundits have decided to attack the red cranberry Christmas trees assigning all sorts of incorrect hidden meanings and negative connotations to them.

Interestingly enough, famed floral designer to the stars Jeff Leatham created a beautiful all red floral Christmas tree display to rave reviews, not criticism.

For those who chose to make the negative comments, it’s important to understand the connection to White House history that the trees represent. Mrs. Trump has such reverence for White House traditions she uniquely introduced the classic White House cranberry tree in a modern fashion worth celebrating.

For nearly 35 years, one of the most inconspicuous but charming holiday traditions at the White House was the annual “cranberry tree” in the Red Room. The lovely crimson topiary, a focal point of the parlor’s holiday décor, stood only two feet tall on the most important piece of American Empire furniture in the White House collection: a marble-inlaid center table made around 1810 by the renowned furniture maker Charles-Honoré Lannuier.

The origins of the White House cranberry tree can be traced to 1975, when Christine Heineman of Chestertown, Maryland, arrived at the residence during the Ford administration with a Styrofoam cone, sphagnum moss, fresh cranberries and her talents as a floral designer.

One of the many White House volunteers who assisted with various types of floral arrangements, Mrs. Heineman made the topiary in one afternoon, and her techniques were used for years in creating the Red Room’s hallmark centerpiece.

It was widely known that red was a favorite color of first lady Nancy Reagan, who also particularly loved the cranberry tree. Additionally, in 2004, President and Mrs. Bush commissioned their official 2004 Christmas card by Cindi Holt to be an oil painting of the Red Room with the cranberry tree figured prominently.

Making her own mark on White House holiday traditions, Mrs. Obama decided to update the tradition in the historic parlor just outside of the East Room, known as the Red Room. She decided to discontinue the time-honored tradition of featuring the cranberry tree.

Instead of the tree, a lovely cranberry garland graced the historic 1819 Italian marble mantel, with caryatid supports, originally ordered by President James Monroe for the State Dining Room, before being placed in the Red Room. More cranberries were made into a ring around the caryatids, bringing the focal point of the parlor to the mantel and Dolly Madison’s portrait above it.

Over the course of her tenure as first lady, Mrs. Obama continued to do different things with cranberries. In 2010, a tiny topiary sphere of cranberries was placed on a side table as a nod to the long former tradition of a cone-shaped topiary tree.

In 2011, the Red Room gave yet another nod to the old Cranberry tree tradition of years past with a beautifully striped cranberry urn with fresh red roses, hydrangeas and peonies sitting as the centerpiece. Matching cranberry and pepper-berry striped wreaths hung in the windows, and a lush arrangement of seasonal flowers, fruit and foliage, set in a handmade cranberry-covered vase, continued part of the holiday tradition of including cranberries in the Red Room.

For several years following, the color red was used but not the actual fruit. The cranberry was no longer a prominent feature in trimming the People’s House.

But that has all changed in 2018 with Mrs. Trump with her keen understanding of White House history.

This year, as one enters the East Wing of the White House guests will quickly walk into a festive forest of red berries lining the entire East Colonnade sitting on top of a green carpet. The cone-shaped magnificent structures varying in sizes some taller than most reminisce of the traditional cranberry tree dating back to the Ford administration and reminding us of one of Mrs. Reagan’s favorite traditions.

The original cranberry topiary structures were created again but also included for display in the Green Room this year. The historic green parlor was filled with décor of fruit this year in the wreath on the windows, a garland on the mantel, and with the historic and the “perennial favorite, nestled in amber waves of grain” — sitting on top of two different side table — were cranberry trees. The historic décor continued along that same wall on side tables in the Red Room again as well.

Mrs. Trump also celebrates the cranberry in the coveted White House Christmas Tour booklet. The booklet details the décor and explains some of the messages and meanings behind the displays and also includes a how-to guide in making your own cranberry tree.

Mrs. Trump truly appreciates White House history and the role this little cranberry has so beautifully played in it.

Jennifer Boswell Pickens is a White House East Wing historian with an expertise in White House traditions, social events and First Ladies. She is a highly sought-after speaker, and author of two books, “Christmas at the White House” and “Pets at the White House.” Follow Jennifer on Twitter.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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