WASHINGTON (AP) — Melania Trump and son Barron joined in a time-honored tradition of receiving the official White House Christmas tree, which will become the showstopper for a president who has vowed to put Christmas back at the center of the winter holidays.
A military quartet played holiday tunes Monday as a horse-drawn wagon carried the 19 1/2-foot (5.9-meter) Balsam fir from Wisconsin up the White House driveway.
The first lady, wearing a red turtleneck and a coat draped over her shoulders, and 11-year-old Barron, in a dark suit coat, white shirt and dark slacks, circled the tree and then visited with growers Jim and Diane Chapman. The Chapmans own a Wisconsin Christmas tree farm and won an annual contest sponsored by the National Christmas Tree Association.
"This is a beautiful tree. Thank you so much. We will decorate it very nicely," the first lady told the Chapmans and other family members. "I hope you can come and visit with us."
The White House grounds superintendent and the chief usher, who oversees the residence, picked out the tree during a September scouting trip.
After Mrs. Trump and Barron gave their symbolic approval, the tree was carefully carted off to the Blue Room where, after a slight trim and the removal of a monstrous chandelier, it will take center stage.
President Donald Trump has been eagerly waiting to celebrate a Trump Christmas at the White House. During last year's presidential campaign, he railed against the habit of saying "Happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," characterizing it as a "chipping away at Christianity."
"And we're not going to let that happen anymore, folks. I'll tell you," the then-candidate said at a March 2016 news conference in Florida. "A lot of times I'll say at the rallies around Christmastime we're going to start saying Merry Christmas again. You know, they don't say it anymore. The department stores don't put it up. We're going to start saying it again."
Invitations to dozens of holiday parties hosted by the Trumps are going out. The subject line of one emailed invite references a White House "Christmas reception" while the language of the invitation itself refers to a "holiday reception."
The tree for the Blue Room usually arrives the day after Thanksgiving, but it was delivered early this year to accommodate the Trumps, who are spending the holiday at their Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.
While the Trumps are away, a small army of volunteer decorators and florists from around the country will descend on the White House on Friday and spend the holiday weekend transforming the 132-room mansion for Christmas, complete with a tree in every public room.
The White House kitchens will go into overdrive preparing all the food and cakes, cookies and pies that are typically served at the parties, along with the gingerbread White House — which, for health reasons, is never eaten. In recent years, cookies in the image of former President Barack Obama's dogs Bo and Sunny were always among the first items to be slipped into purses for the trip home.
Trump does not have a pet.
The White House plans to unveil the holiday decor on Monday, and the first lady will also welcome children and students from Joint Base Andrews for a holiday arts and crafts event. The president plans to light the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse on Thursday.
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