Christmas at the White House is the first lady’s domain. A recent CBS special showed that the first lady has always been very involved in decorating for the holiday. (Watch it below if you’re a sucker for presidential trivia, Christmas kitsch, or both.)
At first viewing, the special looked like a record of institutionalized national sexism and gender role propaganda. But really, it’s less about putting the first lady in her domestic place, and more about promoting the idea of the White House as a real home and the first family as a relatable one that celebrates holidays like everyone else. As for why it’s the first lady’s responsibility specifically, think about how else the presidential Christmas could go.
The president takes the lead on the White House Christmas: There’s no way he could get away with this, when there’s still no fiscal cliff deal, the country is divided and angry about gun control, and he’s supposedly preparing a major push for immigration reform to be presented in just a few weeks. The president wasn’t elected to hang wreaths, but to lead the country, and if he focused on Christmas and not crises, he’d get flack for it from every direction.
A staffer does it: Outsourcing the presidential holiday festivities to an employee would send the message that the Obamas don’t care about Christmas. It would undermine the whole point of showing America the first family celebrating along with them, and would, in fact, distance them from the American family.
The first lady does it: This is the only viable option. The sexism here isn’t in the fact that the Christmas celebration falls to the president’s spouse, but in the fact that, so far, that’s always meant the woman. As long as the first female president’s husband takes on the Christmas decorating role, the current system is fine.
Just imagine how great an addition Bill Clinton would make to the CBS retrospective on first ladies and their Christmases (hint, hint, Hillary).