Melania Trump — in the final weeks of her final year in the White House and with her husband largely out of view while he mulls his election loss — beamed on Monday as she ushered in the pomp and circumstance of the holidays at the White House, welcoming the arrival of an 18-foot Christmas tree as a military band played carols outside the residence.
The Fraser fir was delivered by a pair of Clydesdale horses at noon.
The first lady, 50, welcomed the tree, as is customary, with a noticeably blonder hairstyle, along with a black-and-white checked coat, black gloves and over-the-knee black high-heeled boots; her husband, meanwhile, has made few public appearances since the Nov. 3 election.
According to a pool report, she spoke briefly to the owners of the tree farm and told onlookers "merry Christmas" before returning inside.
The tree, which was grown at a West Virginia farm, will be displayed in the White House's Blue Room and eventually decorated as one of the final duties of the first lady before she and President Donald Trump leave office on Jan. 20.
The first lady's spokeswoman previously told PEOPLE she was "looking forward to once again opening the People’s House for Christmas."
"It is an annual tradition that she has enjoyed designing since June," Mrs. Trump's spokeswoman said earlier this month. "The decor will be showcased and celebrated across the country in December."
Reflecting the strong and divisive opinions on the Trump administration, Mrs. Trump's Christmas choices have made headlines in the past.
Her 2018 decor featured startlingly red trees that many compared to the dystopian imagery of The Handmaid's Tale.
“I think they look fantastic. I hope everybody will come over and visit it. In real life, they look even more beautiful. You are all welcome to visit the White House, the people’s house,” Mrs. Trump said in 2018, after some of the initial criticism.
“We are in 21st century and everybody has a different taste,” she said then.
The first lady has spoken dismissively in private about some of the rituals expected of her role — including overseeing Christmas decorations.
Those comments were secretly captured by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, Mrs. Trump’s former friend and White House aide, who released the recordings in October.
The audio shows Mrs. Trump suggesting to Wolkoff that she felt stuck between ceremonial obligations and the detractors who slammed her for not doing more in response to the president's controversial anti-immigration policies.
"They say I'm complicit. I'm the same like him, I support him. I don't say enough, I don't do enough, where I am? I’m working my a– off on the Christmas stuff … who gives a f— about the Christmas stuff and decorations? But I need to do it, right?" Mrs. Trump is heard saying on the tapes.
She continues in that clip: "Okay, and then I do it and I say that I'm working on Christmas and planning for the Christmas and they said, 'Oh, what about the children that they were separated?' Give me a f—— break. Where they were saying anything when Obama did that?"
(The first lady has dismissed Wolkoff as someone who "hardly knew me," and her spokeswoman called Wolkoff a paranoiac and deceitful.)
The arrival of the Christmas tree kicks off a slew of holiday events at the White House, including indoor parties, which are being held despite the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Mrs. Trump's spokeswoman said in a statement to various media outlets that attending the parties will be "a personal choice" and that safety precautions will be followed.
Even with precautions, though, experts warn that indoor parties could be dangerous.
In a Monday interview on Good Morning America, Surgeon General Jerome Adam said that federal health guidelines against holding indoor events "apply to everyone," including the White House.
"We want everyone to understand that these holiday celebrations can be super-spreader events," he said, adding that the tips, "apply to the White House, they apply to the American people, they apply to everyone."
Two events held at the White Hose in recent months — a Rose Garden event for Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett in late September and an election-night party — were widely scrutinized after numerous attendees were seen in close proximity without masks and later tested positive for the virus.
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