Who gets a White House Christmas card, and why

Richard Nixon pioneered the use of the White House Christmas card as a political reward. What does the Obamas' Christmas card look like, and what does it say?

"Who gets White House Christmas cards? And can you get me on the list?”

This is a request Decoder has fielded occasionally over the years. It’s usually made by someone who lives in a distant city and mistakenly thinks D.C. print reporting is a swirl of state dinners and glamorous repartee.

Our short answers to the above are “not you” and “no.” Decoder doesn’t get presidential holiday greetings either. Not anymore. (More on that later.)

The longer reply is that White House holiday cards go to political supporters, people who the administration wishes were political supporters, people who have fooled the administration into thinking they are political supporters, and staff. And the staff’s friends. And, yes, the media.

A political list of recipients

The key word here is “political.” That should not be a surprise. For any president, much of what appears to be part of normal life, even the acquisition of pets and the choice of vacations, is examined for political implications.

Remember, the government does not pay for the cards. The political parties do. So the best way to get one is to give money to the parties. If you want to make sure you get a card no matter who wins a presidential election, give to both.

Richard Nixon is the president who pioneered the use of the cards as a political reward, according to Mary Evans Seeley , author of “Season’s Greetings from the White House.” He increased the size of the list by 10-fold, to 40,000. And it has climbed from there.

George W. Bush , for instance, used to send out some 1.5 million. That’s close to the biggest private order Hallmark has ever received. (Jamie Wyeth painted the Bushes’ 2005 card. The famous artist worked on-scene. One of the Bush Scotties ate his brush.)

The Obamas' card

The Obamas’ card this year is lovely in an elegant way. It shows a gold wreath encircling a presidential coat of arms. Inside it says, “May your family have a joyous holiday season and a new year blessed with hope and happiness.”

Decoder won’t get one. We used to get White House holiday cards, back when we had a White House pass. But we gave that up for a cushier assignment. The cards stopped.

Decoder’s kids get one, though. The youngest, now 10, has been able to recite all the presidents in order, plus vice presidents, since second grade. Let’s just say an administration official who shall remain nameless decided that deserved a little annual reward.

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