Saturday, December 12, 2009

The People’s Decorations for the People’s House

Christmas decorations at the White House include a crèche in the East Room (despite reports that White House social secretary Desirée Rogers suggested that the Obamas were planning a "non-religious Christmas.") Should the White House, whose residents serve all Americans, display a crèche or a menorah or any strictly religious symbols during the holidays?

The People’s Decorations for the People’s House

Since President Obama moved in, he has placed an emphasis on the White House as “the people’s house.” In doing so, the President has emphasized the name by which the home was called before the “White House” caught on. Yet, the display of the traditional White House crèche does not symbolize the President’s estate as the people’s house. Indeed, the White House is the people’s house and its decorations during the holiday season should represent the people whom it claims.

The crèche, itself, was given to the White House in 1967 and certainly does not represent the people of the United States in 2009. In the summer of 1967 race riots raged across the country, most notably the 12th street riot in Detroit where 43 people died. In the 42 years since the crèche was given to the White House, the country has grown radically in its racial, ethnic, and religious diversity to an extent which must have been inconceivable in 1967. Not to mention, the crèche itself is an 18th century Italian work. (Where is the outcry about the display of the anti-American propaganda crèche in the White House?) With the first black president in office, this crèche seems incapable of representing the people of the United States in the here and now. The decorations of the White House during this holiday season must represent the people of the United States here and now. That means decorations from the diversity of religions practiced in the United States and it means Christmas decorations that represent the diversity of Christian expressions now present in the United States.

The White House made great strides in working towards a holiday season which includes and represents the people of the United States when Michelle Obama sent off old ornaments from past White House holiday seasons. They were shipped off to 60 different communities around the country who decorated them with local landmarks and sent them back to the White House to be used. If the White House can be so geographically representative in its holiday decorations, why can’t it be just as religiously representative?

We must also remember that the Obama family is a part of the people who claim the White House as their own. And the White House should be decorated in a way which represents the Obamas. In particular, as a household with two small children the White House should be decorated in a way which helps to express and form their family’s faith. This means decorating the White House with explicitly Christian decorations (the faith tradition which the Obama’s have always claimed) and with decorations which are true to the family’s tradition itself. A crèche that had been traditionally used by the family would be much more appropriate than a crèche from the Lyndon Johnson administration. An authentic expression of faith in decorating the White House would be refreshing and would set an honest precedent for living into the ideal of the White House as “the people’s house.”


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