By DARLENE SUPERVILLE
WASHINGTON (AP) — Jill Biden opened the holiday season at the White House on Monday by breaking off a small branch from the official Blue Room tree and giving it – along with a big smooch — to her toddler grandson.
“Look how beautiful this is,” the first lady said of the 18 1/2-foot (5.6 meter) Fraser fir that was delivered to her Pennsylvania Avenue doorstep by Clydesdale horses named Ben and Winston, who pulled a wagon carrying the tree.
“It is beautiful. It’s magnificent, really,” she said.
Son Hunter Biden, his wife, Melissa, and their toddler, Beau, were among a sizeable group of White House aides, guests and others who braved crisp winds to watch the brief ceremony marking the start of President Joe Biden’s first Christmas in the White House.
The tree was presented by the father-and-son team of Rusty and Beau Estes of Peak Farms in Jefferson, North Carolina — a three-time winner of the National Christmas Tree Association’s annual contest. The winner gets to present its official tree to the White House.
White House grounds superintendent Dale Haney went to the farm in October to pick out a tree. Peak Farms also supplied the official White House tree in 2008 and 2012.
The Fraser fir will be decorated in the coming days and displayed in the Blue Room, a tradition that dates back to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, after a chandelier is removed so it can be tethered to the ceiling for safety during the season.
The White House Christmas decorations will be revealed on the Monday after Thanksgiving, the first lady said.
She also was joined by a D.C. Army National Guard family to honor the National Guard’s role in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, her office said. She has been using her new role to help highlight and rally support for military families from across the country through an initiative named Joining Forces. The Bidens’ late son, Beau — for whom the toddler grandson is named — served in the Delaware Army National Guard.
Later Monday, the first lady was joining President Biden, the commander in chief, on a trip to the Army’s Fort Bragg in North Carolina to celebrate “friendsgiving” with service members and military families. The term combines the words “friend” and “Thanksgiving” and refers to a large meal among friends that’s eaten during the Thanksgiving season.
On Tuesday, they plan to participate in a to-be-announced local service project before resuming their family tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving on the Massachusetts island of Nantucket.
Last fall, as public health officials advised people against traveling or gathering in large groups before COVID-19 vaccines were widely available, Biden put tradition on hold and hunkered down over Thanksgiving dinner in Delaware with just his wife, and their daughter and son-in-law.
“Last Thanksgiving, for the first time, it was just the four of us,” Biden said earlier this month as he commented on the nation’s progress against the coronavirus. “Later this month, our tables and our hearts are going to be filled, thanks to the vaccines.”