What's different about a Trump Christmas?

By Tara McKelvey
BBC White House reporter

  • Published
Melania TrumpImage source, Getty Images

"Merry Christmas," the president told reporters as he walked across the South Lawn.

It was a warm day at the White House with the scent of roses in the air and it hardly felt like Christmas.

Yet the holiday season was in full swing - a week earlier than many of his predecessors chose to begin.

Trump likes to do things differently, though.

In that spirit, here are five ways that his Christmas is unique.

It started before Thanksgiving

Traditionally the first family's Christmas tree arrives on a horse-drawn wagon some time after Thanksgiving.

For decades, this ceremony has marked the beginning of the Christmas holiday season in Washington.

This year the tree arrived early - three days before Thanksgiving - apparently because of the president's travel plans. On the following day, he left for his private club, Mar-a-Lago, in Florida.

Moving up the date of the tree-arrival ceremony and the president's decision to leave the White House that week were important markers, said St Joseph's University's Katherine AS Sibley.

She says it shows that he and his family have not made the White House a focal point in the way that other first families, such as the Obamas, the Bushes and the Kennedys, did.

"It just seems more like an adjunct to their lives instead of a central place," Sibley explained.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony had its usual glamour and pageantry

No more 'Happy Holidays'

During the presidential campaign, Trump would tell his supporters that people would soon be saying "Merry Christmas" again, instead of "happy holidays", which he has derided as politically correct.

And in October he told supporters he had delivered on that pledge. "We're saying Merry Christmas again," he said.

For his supporters, it's a symbol of defiance against the guardians of acceptable language.

But his critics says it's meaningless. President Obama often said it in his seasonal address, they point out.

Other presidents said it but they didn't make a big deal about it, says New York University's Timothy Naftali, a presidential biographer.

"He [Trump] will pretend he is the first president to celebrate Christmas," said Naftali.

A special present for the people

It's not the kind of gift you'll find under the tree.

Tax cuts don't come covered in wrapping paper.

The president has described his proposed tax cuts as "a great, big, beautiful Christmas present" for Americans.

And the plan has taken a big step towards becoming a reality with the Senate passing its bill.

No pet photos

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Replicas of Bo and Sunny adorned the 2013 White House

He's the first president in more than a century without a pet - so no cute pictures of a first dog, marking another departure from tradition.

Bo and Sunny, the Portuguese water dogs, featured in several Obama Christmas photo-opportunities.

In the George W Bush White House, Barney, a Scottish terrier, once inspected presents under the tree.

Socks, the Clintons' cat, wore a Santa hat.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Spot the difference - 2014 (top) and 2017

'Bah, humbug' for the media

Under previous administrations, the president held a press conference in the briefing room in December. Trump's not likely to do that.

One administration aide told me that she thinks it's beneath him to appear in the briefing room. Instead the president talks to reporters on the south lawn, in the Oval Office or on Air Force One, places where he seems to feel comfortable.

Besides that, he's invited a smaller number of reporters to the White House to celebrate the holidays.

The party invitations have gone out, but a CNN spokesperson said they weren't going to attend because of "the president's continued attacks on freedom of the press and CNN".

That suits people who work for the president just fine.

Upon hearing the news, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, wrote: "Christmas comes early! Finally, good news from @CNN"