WASHINGTON -- The walls of the White House are festooned with wreaths and each room is filled with meticulously trimmed trees, holiday decorations chosen by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and all inspired by her travels to small American communities.
"Really, it's all about families, American families, and how difficult this year has been for American families," she explained.
Striped stockings hanging from mantles and framed photo ornaments are holiday hallmarks that look like they could be inside any American home. It was an intentional choice on the first lady's part; she personally chose many of the photos out of albums.
"I want people to know that this is the people's house," Dr. Biden said. "It's beautiful, and you can say it's like a museum, but it's also a home."
But as Christmas comes around again, there are also reflections of how much we've lost in a grueling year of a pandemic. Does Dr. Biden consider, given all we've been through this year, this holiday season to be somber or celebratory?
"I think it's a little bit of both, because this year we've lost over 700,000 Americans and there will be a lot of families who are hurting, experiencing the grief of a loss, but here's also a sense of gratitude, that things will get better, they're getting better," she said.
The first lady knows what it's like to have an empty seat at the table; her family has suffered tremendous loss and she has empathy for all other families going through the same thing.
"I know how hard it is. I know how difficult it is to feel that during the holiday season, but you also have to remember to have gratitude for the things that we do have, and that love of family and our faith that carries us through those times," she said. "Our traditions that help us get through those tough times. I think that through loss, we also have to look for purpose, and I think that's what our family has tried to do."
Much of Dr. Biden's purpose, long before her time in the White House, has been dedicated to military families.
"I've worked with military families for a long time now," she said, "and I incorporated a tribute to military families through the gold star tree."
The first family moved into the White House in the heat of a pandemic, after a bruising campaign. But 10 months in, the first lady sees flickers of unity.
"You can look at it as divisive, or you can look at it now as we have a president who believes in unity and is trying to unify this country," said Dr. Biden. "I hope this nation feels that the president and I think about them all the time. We say prayers for American families every night when we say grace at dinner time, so I hope Americans feel that we care about them."
As her husband's disapproval rating now surpasses his approval, it's an optimistic outlook.
"You can look at it in a negative way, or in a positive way, and I look at what Joe has done to bring the country together," she said. "He is a president for all Americans; whether you voted for him or you didn't, he is your president. I hope all Americans feel that.
Wednesday night, in another show of unity, President Joe Biden and the first lady will join Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff for a menorah lighting at the White House to celebrate Chanukah.