It wasn’t until the front doors of the White House swung open that the significance of his location, as well as the work he was doing, hit decorator Shane Griffin. Standing atop a 15-foot ladder as he put the finishing touches on festive elements in the Grand Foyer, he couldn’t help but stop and take in the view.
“Christmas music was playing, and I looked out onto the White House lawn and it was just one of those moments,” he recalls. “It was emotional. It really stopped me.”
Months prior, Griffin applied for a coveted spot on the White House Christmas decorating team on a whim at the suggestion of a friend. For years, bringing festive touches to local homes has been an essential part of Griffin’s business around Christmastime. However, he never imagined that he would be a part of something on the scale of the nation’s capital.
“When I got the acceptance letter, I had already filled up my schedule with local clients for that week,” he says, noting that the week of Thanksgiving is always one of his busiest times. “But this was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I moved a few people around and got flights for my whole family and we were ready to go.”
For three days, Griffin had free reign of the White House and an accompanying warehouse that is home to aisles and aisles of decorations from presidential Christmases past. Working alongside mother-daughter teams, as well as florists and designers from across the country, he took to bringing this year’s theme of “America the Beautiful” to life.
“One thing that really surprised me was that while the ornaments are beautiful, they’re not anything that you wouldn’t have on your own family tree,” he explains, noting that the baubles are used year after year, administration after administration. “But they’re so stunningly beautiful together.”
One special project was the tree Griffin helped put together using handmade ornaments from children all over the country. Paper dolls and other homemade touches delivered a relatable and comforting sense of home in the building that has acted as the backdrop for a good bit of controversy in the past year.
“Christmas brings people together,” Griffin says. “Seeing everything come together so beautifully for the country to enjoy, it makes me appreciate all that we have. Our freedom and our ability to be together this time of year.”
Speaking of together, even decorating the White House couldn’t keep him from celebrating Thanksgiving with his relatives. He and his family caught a morning flight out of D.C. on the morning of Thanksgiving and arrived home in the Capital City just in time to host the holiday meal at their home.
“It’s such a tradition for us. We couldn’t change that,” he says.
And with so many changes in the past months, the holiday season offers the opportunity for a sense of normalcy in a year that has been anything but. The notably traditional spin on this year’s White House holiday décor–which comes in stark contrast to First Lady Melania Trump’s choices in previous years–is perhaps a result of the trials of 2020. For all the challenges the pandemic has presented, it has also brought perspective, revealing what’s truly important: one another and our relationships.