This year I had the great honor of being selected as a volunteer holiday decorator for the White House. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and one I’ll never forget. Being surrounded by history while helping create history (being part of the long tradition of volunteer decorators helping execute the First Lady’s annual theme) was not lost on me for a second, and getting to be creative for an entire week was the icing on the gingerbread house. One thing I was surprised to learn was that many of the holiday decorations at the White House are DIY using reused materials (including repurposing decorations from years’ past) and budget craft hacks. While the end results are stunning and high impact, the projects are surprisingly simple, even for beginner crafters. A few of the creators in attendance have been sharing tutorials to help folks recreate the magic of the White House holiday décor at home, and I’m sharing several of these projects with you today.
2022 White House Holiday Decorations Theme: We the People
It’s traditional for the First Lady to select the theme for the year’s White House holiday decorations. This year, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden chose a décor theme that captures the spirit embodied in the very idea of America: “We the People.” This theme came to light throughout the house in many ways, big and small, with specific rooms representing what bring We the People together during the holidays and throughout the year. Thanks to the help of 150 volunteers from across the country, the 2022 White House décor features: 77 Christmas trees, 25 wreathes,12,000 ornaments,15,000 feet of ribbon,1,600 bells, and 84,000 holiday lights. Learn more about the 2022 theme and see beautiful photos of every room on the Holidays at the White House website, and check-out this piece I wrote for Allrecipes.
How to recreate the white house holiday decorations at home
Here’s how you can recreate some of my favorite DIY projects from the 2022 White House holiday decorations for your own home. I’m sharing details for a few of the projects I worked on personally, along with a roundup of some of the other cool projects done by other creators and volunteers.
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White House Holiday Decorations: Food and Traditions
One of the rooms I had the honor to decorate was the China Room, a room that was formalized by First Lady Edith Wilson in 1917 for housing tableware used by past presidential families. The China Room had a theme of “Food & Traditions,” which really resonated with me. Like so many Americans, I have so many warm memories of time spent with my family in the kitchen cooking and around the table enjoying meals. The China Room’s design elements are meant to remind us of family traditions passed down through generations, overflowing kitchens that smell like familiar recipes, and crowded dining room tables filled with laughter, as you’ll see in the two food and cooking related holiday decoration ideas I’m sharing below.
DIY Recipe Card Garland
This recipe card garland is on the mantel and around the three trees in the White House China Room. Nothing embodies the China Room’s theme of Food & Traditions quite like well-loved recipe cards of family recipes. Family recipes were submitted by volunteers from across the country (including a few of my own – my father’s Tembleque and my grandfather’s Clam Dip – and some from Dr. Biden herself), and we used some DIY tricks to age the recipe cards before making them into garlands. Here’s how you can do this, too!
- Recipe cards (have family and friends bring a few each year to add more)
- Furniture polish or wood stain (in a few different shades)
- Paint brushes
- Paper towels
- Metal chicken wire craft or floral ribbon
- Wire cutting scissors
- Hot glue gun and hot glue sticks
- Optional: Floral wire or other thin-gauge wire
- Using a paintbrush, lightly brush, blot, and even splatter newer recipe cards to give them an aged, well-used look. Note: A little goes a long way. Allow the cards to dry on paper towels.
- Meanwhile, cut your desired length of chicken wire ribbon. Curve the wire ribbon in an undulating pattern.
- Using a glue gun and glue sticks, attach the cards to the chicken wire ribbon. You can make the garlands as thin or wide as you’d like, with one, two, or three-card thickness.
- Add the garland to your mantel and/or tree by shaping and bending the wire ribbon into place. Add floral wire to a few spots to secure (if needed).
DIY Frosting Dipped Spoons
Another one of the China Room’s unique food-themed holiday decorations were these wooden spoons meant to look like they were dipped in frosting. They were hung from the mantel and glued around one of the tree drums in the room. Here’s how you can make them yourself!
- An assortment of wooden spoons
- Wood stain
- Joint compound
- FloraCraft Winter Snow
- Use wood stain to stain wooden spoons in varying shades (you can leave a few unstained). Let dry.
- Dip the tips of the spoons into joint compound (shaking off excess). Vary up the amount of “frosting” on each spoon by dipping some at an angle, dipping the spoon completely, dipping just the edge of the spoon, etc.
- While the joint compound is still wet, dip into the craft snow. Let dry at least 24 hours. We found it helpful to punch holes in the bottom of a cardboard box to let the spoons stand upright while drying.
- Affix the spoons to tree drums, or hang them in trees or mantels for a fun food and cooking themed holiday decoration.
Other Food and Cooking Themed Holiday Decoration Ideas
Here are some of the other food and cooking themed Christmas decorations in the White House China Room this year. These are in addition to blue and red velvet ribbons and bows and copper-colored ball ornaments.
- Rolling pins (with the handles painted a festive red) mixed with mini rolling pins
- Spray painted faux copper pans (like these 6-cup muffin pans and small Bundt pans)
- Copper measuring cups and spoons
- Gingerbread cookies
- Faux china melamine plates (light enough to hang hooks and ribbons on them to use as tree ornaments). We also used this reasonably priced set from IKEA.
White House Holiday Decorations: Words and Stories
Another one of the rooms my team decorated at the White House is the Library, which had the fitting theme of “Words & Stories.” Per the Holidays at the White House website, the room “celebrates how the stories we share bring us closer to the people we love, the world around us, and our unfolding history.” The décor is inspired by literature, history, and education (something very close to Dr. Biden’s heart), which not only spur spirited dialogue, but also remind us of the connections that transcend culture, distance, and time. There are several elements in the Library this year using pages from books, with a centerpiece of magnificent (yet surprisingly easy to construct) book trees.
DIY Book Trees
These book trees, while impressive, are really quick, easy, and cost-effective to construct. Here’s what you’ll need to make this piece of the 2022 White House Christmas décor at home.
- Thrifted books
- Sturdy cardboard tubes
- Hot glue gun and glue sticks
- Holiday greenery
Get the tutorial from Racheal Jackson of Banyan Bridges on Instagram here.
White House Holiday Decorations: Sounds and Songs
The White House Green Room’s theme this year as part of the overall We the People narrative is “Sounds & Songs.” As you know, music is woven into the harmony and history of our great country. Music is healing and unifying, with the unique power to bring people together. Inspired by choral masterpieces and familiar carols, the décor in this room features sleigh bells, hand bells, and jingle bells to signal the sounds and songs of the holiday season. What you might not realize when you see the pictures of the silk-walled room is that the bells are actually dollar store hacks that anyone can create at home!
DIY Hanging Bells (Dollar Store Holiday Décor Hack)
These DIY hanging bells from the White House Green Room are a brilliant example of how cost-effective components can be transformed into something beautiful thanks to the magic of DIY. Here’s what the team of White House volunteer holiday decorators used to bring them to life.
- Plastic cups and mini planters from the dollar store
- Plastic shower rings
- Brown spraypaint
- Gold paint
- Sponge paint brushes
- Floral wire
Get the tutorial from Marite Sanchez of Marite Does It on her website here, and watch her make it on Instagram here.
White House Holiday Decorations: We the Children
In the White House State Dining Room, the décor theme of “We the Children” celebrates the childlike wonder that makes the holiday season so special for so many, while reminding us that We the People will carry on our values and ideals through the promise of the next generation. The ornaments on the Christmas trees in the room were crafted using self-portraits by the students of the 2021 Teachers of the Year from across the country. It was important for Dr. Biden that children could see themselves in this year’s holiday display as part of the We the People theme, and the ornaments came together beautifully with some simple DIY.
Kid’s Self-Portrait Ornaments
These DIY self-portrait ornaments are a great activity for your family, for a class at school, or even as a way to cherish your own artwork. Here’s how to make them.
- Self-portrait or other child’s drawing
- Glue stick
- Hot glue gun and glue sticks
- Clear plastic ornaments
- Festive confetti
Get the tutorial from Vanessa Bahena of First Gen House on Instagram here, and check out her very informative article on all things related to volunteering at the White House for the holidays.
DIY Painted Book Tree Skirt
With Dr. Biden’s close relationship to education, educators, and children, it’s only fitting that books were used in the 2022 White House holiday decorations in more than just the Library. Books were also featured as part of the We the Children theme of the State Dining Room. One of the simplest DIY White House holiday decorations you can recreate at home are the painted book tree skirts from the room. Here’s what you’ll need to try this at home.
- Thrifted hardcover books
- Paint primer
- Paint (your choice of colors)
- Painter’s tape
- Paint brushes
Get the tutorial from Monica Chavez of House of Esperanza on Instagram here.
White House East Collonade Holiday Decorations
Arguably the most impressive transformation at the White House this holiday season was the East Colonnade, which became nothing short of a winter wonderland. Faux birch trees, handmade woodland animals, and strings of faux snow evoke the feelings of peace and tranquility after the first snowfall. When you see how these stunning decorations are made (and how easy it is for you to recreate them for yourself at home), I think you’ll be that much more impressed.
DIY Birch Trees and Falling Snow
Mirrors were used throughout the 2022 White House holiday decorations so that visitors would “see themselves” in the décor, and truly feel a part of the We the People theme. Strings of small mirror circles resemble sparkling snow along with DIY snow strings made from cotton balls hung from branches of the faux birch trees that lined the East Colonnade. Here are the materials you’ll need to recreate this for yourself (note that many of these are household objects and repurposed materials, making it a surprisingly accessible and attainable DIY project).
- Masking tape
- Craft paper
- Light wash paints (white, beige, and light grey)
- Paint brushes
- Black marker
- Hot glue gun and glue sticks
- Cotton balls
- Small round craft mirrors
- Clear monofilament (fishing line)
Get the tutorial from Charlotte Smith of At Charlotte’s House on Instagram here.
If you have the chance to make it to the White House to see the holiday decorations this season, I highly recommend a visit. If not, I hope you found some inspiration in this article for recreating some of the holiday magic from the People’s House for your own people. Wishing you the best holiday season!
Absolutely delightful to read the well instructions. It warms my heart to know that many of the decoration are DIY. It was a pleasure to work with you at the White House. Your skills and joy that you bring to others is a gift. Merry Christmas.
Ramona Cruz-Peters says
It was a pleasure to meet and spend time with you, too! I also love how much of the decorations were DIY.
Wendy Powers says
Wow, what a beautiful Christmas at the White House. Great job everyone. How long did it take?
One of the things on my bucket list is to do that very same thing : to help decorate the White House for Christmas!
How does a person apply? Who is in charge? Were you on a waiting list for a long time? Did you send in a portfolio of Christmas decorating you’ve done?
I head up a 30×90 foot Christmas tent for Sebastopol Hardware in Sonoma County California. I appreciate you sharing your experience!
Ramona Cruz-Peters says
Thank you, Wendy! It was truly the experience of a lifetime! To answer your questions:
1) Though planning starts with the First Lady’s team 8 months in advance, the team of volunteers decorated (including DIYs and decorating) in 6 days. Though some of the decorations were created in advance and sent to the White House by the artists and craftspeople who donated them.
2) Every year an application process opens. Here’s the announcement for last year so you can see where to look for it next year: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/10/11/the-white-house-opens-volunteer-applications-for-the-2022-holiday-season/
3) The First Lady, her events and social teams, and the White House Visitor’s Office run the show.
4) They announced those who had been selected the at the beginning of November (applications opened early to mid October).
5) I didn’t send a portfolio, however there is an opportunity within the application to share relevant experience. They also ask specifically about professional experience with floristry, interior design, and construction I believe (though that experience is not required; there are lots of roles needed, many that require no professional decorating experience). Some people, like me, are also nominated based on certain expertise, then still have to go through the application process. I am not sure how the nomination process works.
I hope this helps!! Good luck if you apply next year!