French ski resorts protest plans to keep lifts closed over Christmas period


Ski resorts in the French regions of Isère and Savoie are protesting against the government”s decision last week to keep ski lifts closed over the festive period to stop the spread of the COVID-19.

The Isère department includes stations such as Alpe d’Huez, Les 2 Alpes and La Grave, whilst Savoie includes resorts such as Val d’Isère, Tignes, La Plagne, Les Arcs and those in Les 3 Vallées.

More than 600 people demonstrated in Bourg-Saint-Maurice (Savoie) despite the government veto, and organisers estimated 1,200 people attended the protest in Bourg d’Oisans.

It comes as the French government proposes “random border checks” to be put in place over the holiday season targeting people trying to get to foreign resorts.

Controls could include virus tests and a seven-day quarantine on skiers returning to France.

Prime minister Jean Castex is due to meet again with representatives of the French mountain communities on December 11 to “discuss the situation and decide when resorts can reopen”.

Crowds in Bourg-Saint-Maurice carried broken red hearts to express “the feeling of not being listened to,” explained Jean-Luc Boch, mayor of La Plagne and President of the Association of Mayors of Mountain Stations (ANMSM).

Residents of the town-resorts of the Haute-Tarentaise valley also joined the event.

“Our economic activity depends largely on tourism and there we feel it an injustice to have been the only ones put aside for the recovery in mid-December,” said Guillaume Desrues, mayor of Bourg-Saint-Maurice/Les Arcs.

Ski resorts say they’ve worked hard to put measures in place to keep resorts COVID-19 safe.

Yannick Amet, mayor of Sainte-Foy-Tarentaise told the crowds: “We have been working for three months in consultation with the medical profession, ski area operators and professionals from all sides, in order to coordinate our actions and set up screening centres in each of the communes using PCR and antigen tests”.

“The department of Savoie and the region are able to provide these tests on a massive scale. A reception centre in Bourg-Saint-Maurice is ready and can accommodate around forty people in safety”.

France says it stands by its decision to keep ski lifts closed despite resorts being open, to avoid outbreaks of contamination. And the latest move is to dissuade the French from visiting neighbouring countries to circumvent the ban.

Some areas have already opened in Switzerland and the country, which is not part of the European Union, intends to combine health protocols and economic imperatives to open its stations during the holidays.

Austria, announced today plans to re-allow individual outdoor sports, including skiing, as of December 24 but will limit the capacity of ski lifts.

The country will keep restaurants, bars and hotels largely closed until early January, officials said Wednesday. It also will require many people entering the country over the Christmas period to go into quarantine.

In Bulgaria, the resort of Bansko, European mecca for “low-cost” skiing, is also planning to open.

In Italy, a government decree on anti-COVID-19 rules for the holidays is expected shortly and, according to press reports, it should endorse the closure of ski slopes and ski lifts.

Spain plans to open its ski resorts, but conditions remain to be defined between the central government and the regions, according to Health Minister Salvador Illa.

“I want to protect my citizens, it’s my duty. That other countries don’t follow the same concept is their right, but I will continue to protect my citizens by preventing them from getting contaminated,” said Castex.

“We would prefer a harmonization at the European level, we are putting all our energy towards it. But at the end, the countries surrounding us are sovereign countries”.

“It’s not fair. We don’t understand how the decisions have been made,” Sara Burden spokesperson for the French resort of Morzine told Euronews.

“We don’t think it’s right the French resorts are closing and French businesses are suffering whilst skiers can go to other countries – so we would welcome the French government’s proposals”.

As for the plans for Christmas, resorts are keen to spread the message that there are plenty of activities to enjoy in the fresh air this winter.

“Most boutiques will be open (cheese shops, chocolate, potters), there will be walks and snowshoeing and guides will offer guided walks and ski tours, and there is an outdoor ice rink. Many restaurants will be open for take away meals,” says Burdon.

Chamonix also says its hills are still very much alive and they are ready to welcome hikers, bikers and paragliders.

Ski touring, Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, sledging, spas, and shopping are all authorised activities.



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Adelaide family returns home to find koala perched on Christmas tree in lounge room


An Adelaide Hills family has returned to their home after a short outing to find a koala perched on the Christmas tree in their lounge room.

Coromandel Valley home owner Amanda McCormick told ABC Radio Adelaide she was “shocked” to discover the animal sitting in the plastic tree, surrounded by baubles, stars and snowflakes.

“I got home from work and the dog made a beeline for the Christmas tree and I noticed all of the decorations on the floor,” she said.

“I could not believe it, I was in shock. It was right in my face.”

The koala had made its way inside after Ms McCormick’s daughter left the house door open.

“Normally we do [lock the door] but … we left it open just for the dog to go in an out,” she said.

“She went out for a couple of hours and we all came home together and there it was.”

Ms McCormick was “shocked” to find the koala inside her home.(Supplied: Amanda McCormick)

Ms McCormick called in wildlife rescuers to assist in removing the koala from the Christmas tree, but said they initially believed the phone call was a hoax.

“I know what [koalas] can get like so I thought, ‘I’ll leave that one to the professionals and get them round’,” she said.

“She didn’t want to leave actually, they had a bit of a fight trying to get her off the tree. I think she was quite comfortable.”

The koala was relocated outside to a nearby tree and has since moved on.

But Ms McCormick said it may not be the last she sees of the cuddly intruder.

“It’s probably trying to get back, inside to be honest,” she joked.



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Demand for Christmas trees booms as gloomy year of COVID-19 needs some jollying


Canadians planning to buy a live Christmas tree this season should start shopping now and expect to pay more, the Canadian Christmas Tree Growers Association says.

Farmers anticipate 2020 will be a record sales year. Association head Larry Downey says it’s simple supply and demand: a shortage of trees coupled with a greater appetite from people hoping to liven up their living spaces thanks to widespread stay-at-home orders.

“Personally, we don’t see COVID affecting us,” said Downey, whose family farm in Hatley, Que., sells up to 30,000 Christmas trees each year.

Most wholesale farmers Downey has spoken with this year have already reached sales records, with much of the demand coming from vendors in the United States. Retailers typically place their orders for trees as early as June, Downey says.

The Christmas tree market is still feeling the effects of the Great Recession of more than a decade ago, which put many U.S. growers out of business and led others to reduce planting.

Since saplings take eight to 10 years to reach the size of a typical Christmas tree, the effects of the lower supply have only recently emerged.

A worker loads a Christmas tree onto a trailer at a Pennsylvania Christmas tree farm. The recession of 2008 put many U.S. growers out of business, which is contributing to high prices for trees today. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg)

In turn, the shortage has pushed prices up. Downey said Christmas trees are retailing for about $5 more this year, continuing a trend that has been ongoing for several years.

The average price of a tree rose 123 per cent to $78 US in 2018 from $35 US in 2013, according to the U.S. National Christmas Tree Association.

Prices up in Canada, too

Prices are on the rise in Canada as well.

Stephane Bernier, who runs Plantation Bernier in Lac-Brome, Que., and Bronwyn Harper, who co-owns the Hillcrest Tree Farm near Ottawa, both said they’ve raised Christmas tree prices this year.

It’s a similar story in Sudbury, where an annual charity fundraiser sold 100 Christmas trees within an hour of opening.

“It was insane,” organizer Kerry Radey told CBC. “Never, never has it been like that.”

On top of the shortage, tree sellers say they are expecting strong demand from consumers looking for an outdoor, physically distanced activity and who want to add some holiday cheer to their homes, where people are spending more time due to a second wave of COVID-19.

The pandemic has already led to some greater-than-expected spending in the home improvement market, a trend that could bode well for Christmas tree sales.

Demand high for Fraser firs

Some tree varieties such as Fraser firs, prized for their pleasant fragrance and excellent needle retention, are even more sought after.

Harper said she’s selling Fraser firs for around $85 — $20 more than last year — after her supplier raised prices. She said she can’t grow Fraser firs herself because of the terrain on her property.

In Calgary, Plantation Garden Centre said it can’t keep up with demand for Fraser Firs specifically. “There are lots that are just not opening because they can’t get a Fraser fir,” owner Colin Atter told CBC in an interview.

The anticipated demand for Christmas trees has sparked a rush by some retailers to purchase more trees wholesale.

Phil Quinn, the co-owner of Quinn Farm near Montreal, said he had to buy additional trees from wholesalers to sell at his farm since he didn’t grow enough on his own property to meet the demand he expects this year.

Harper said she’s received many calls from people looking for wholesale trees, although she only sells to retail customers.

“Everyone wants a tree and they want it now,” said Quinn, who expects to be sold out of trees by the second week of December.

Fewer tree-related activities

But while demand for trees is expected to be strong, the pandemic has created its own set of challenges for tree vendors.

Most sellers will not be able to offering the same set of attractions this year, with physical distancing requirements forcing farms to scrap additional draws such as wagon rides and fire pits.

Harper said her biggest challenge this year will be developing clear distancing guidelines for people picking up trees. The farm’s owners won’t allow people to bring their dogs, for example, nor will they offer horse-drawn sleigh or wagon rides.

Michel Gravel is a co-owner of Sapinière Saint-Jean. Like Quebec’s apple producers, he expects a good year of sales for local Christmas tree farmers, considering many people are eager to get out of the house and bring a little nature back with them. (Radio-Canada)

Rather than serving hot apple cider, Hillcrest Tree Farm will be giving people treats to take away when they leave.

“What might have been a one-hour visit will be a shorter visit this year,” Harper said.

Similarly, Serge Lapointe, the owner of Plantation JLS in Sainte-Angele-de-Monnoir, Que., said his farm won’t have anywhere for Christmas tree buyers to congregate this year, unlike in previous years when it offered visitors rides and the chance to take a photo with Santa Claus.

Ordering online an option

One aspect of the Christmas tree market to watch this year will be how lockdown orders affect how people buy trees, including whether they go in person to pick them up or order them online, said Paul Quinn (no relation to Phil Quinn), an analyst at RBC Dominion Securities who studies Christmas tree sales from year to year.

Retail tree vendors could face some competition from large online players: On their websites, Home Depot and Walmart both list natural Fraser Fir trees for sale, available for delivery before Christmas.

A search on Amazon’s website revealed no results for natural Christmas trees, although the company offers a variety of artificial trees for sale.

But Phil Quinn said people are looking to take advantage of the chance to pick out their own tree in person, noting his farm is seeing greater interest in its choose-and-cut option, even with Quebec at its highest COVID-19 alert level.

“People are just asking for some kind of normalcy,” he said.



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Koala makes itself at home in woman’s Christmas tree after ‘wandering in’


There are still 23 days until Christmas, but one koala couldn’t wait — finding a way into a woman’s home in South Australia and making itself comfortable in her Christmas tree.
The Adelaide and Hills Koala Rescue charity shared photos of the animal in its festive new perch this evening.

An Adelaide woman had found the koala nestled among her frosted baubles and snowflake decorations, and called the rescue service for assistance.

This koala ‘wandered’ into a woman’s home in South Australia and made itself comfortable in her Christmas tree. (Facebook)

“But no, a koala desperate to get in the Christmas spirit had wandered into Amanda’s house and decided it wanted to be the fairy on the Christmas tree.”

In comments on the post, rescuers confirmed the koala was a female —who appeared to be quite at home amidst the green (albeit artificial) foliage.

“Koalas are very curious creatures and if the opportunity presents itself, they will investigate,” the team told 9News.com.au.

“We have rescued koalas in chicken coops, bathrooms, open inspections, children’s prams, bicycles, brooms, toy cars … but a Christmas tree is a first for us.”

The best thing to do if you find a koala in your own home, they said, is to call your local koala rescue right away.

The koala appeared quite at home, nestled in the artificial foliage. (Facebook)

The charity, also known as 1300KOALAZ, runs a 24-hour hotline on the same number — rescuing and rehabilitating, and ultimately releasing koalas who’ve found themselves in strife. They explain on their Facebook page that they are volunteer-run, with workers caring for animals in their own homes to avoid extra bills and overheads.

“We also believe in protecting koala habitat and regenerating habitat lost through deforestation or bushfire,” their description adds.

Koala populations across the country were decimated by the nightmare bushfire season.



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Trump teases 2024 run at White House Christmas party


President Trump has vowed to return to the White House ‘in four years’ if he doesn’t manage to cling onto the presidency now with his claims of election fraud following Joe Biden‘s win.

The president hosted a Christmas reception at the White House on Tuesday evening  where he teased a 2024 run and once again repeated allegations that he was the true winner of the presidential race earlier this month.

‘It’s been an amazing four years. We are trying to do another four years,’ Trump told the crowd, which included many Republican National Committee members. 

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President Trump teased a 2024 run at the White House Christmas party Tuesday evening 

Footage of the event was shared by a guest on social media and showed dozens of people - many who were not wearing masks - crammed into the Cross Hall of the White House state floor

The majority of guests were Republican National Committee members

Footage of the event was shared by a guest on social media and showed dozens of people – many who were not wearing masks – crammed into the Cross Hall of the White House state floo

‘Otherwise, I’ll see you in four years,’ he added, prompting cheers from the audience.  

Trump was heard addressing the crowd in a video shared on social media by former Oklahoma Republican Party Chair Pam Pollard.

The footage showed dozens of people crammed into the Cross Hall of the White House state floor, standing closely together as they listened to the president speak. 

Many seen in the video were not wearing masks.

Trump was filmed making his entrance as he waved to a crowd of cheering guests.  

He then went on to deliver a speech repeating election fraud claims, despite his attorney general Bill Barr telling the AP just hours earlier that the Justice Department had not uncovered evidence of widespread voter fraud and had seen nothing that would change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

‘It’s certainly an unusual year. We won an election, but they don’t like that,’ Trump told the group, adding: ‘I call it a rigged election, and I always will.’   

The video showed attendees standing closely together as they listened to the president speak

The video showed attendees standing closely together as they listened to the president speak

The comments come days after Trump finally admitted he would leave office if the Electoral College votes for Biden later this month.

Since the election was called in Biden’s favor, Trump had repeatedly claimed he was unfairly robbed and had also teased a 2024 run should he be forced to concede. 

Former Oklahoma Republican Party Chair Pam Pollard (pictured) shared a video of Trump's remarks on social media

Former Oklahoma Republican Party Chair Pam Pollard (pictured) shared a video of Trump’s remarks on social media

Tuesday night’s party marks one of multiple holiday receptions the Trumps will hold this month, intent on celebrating a final season before the president leaves office on January 20.     

The celebrations come as coronavirus cases have spiked throughout the country, as Washington D.C. has cracked down on the size of gatherings, and medical experts have asked people to scale back their holiday plans to avoid any super spreader events. 

The White House has been the site of at least one suspected COVID-19 superspreader event, and dozens of the president’s aides, campaign staffers and allies have tested positive in numerous outbreaks.

Trump himself was hospitalized for the virus in October, and the first lady and two of his sons have tested positive. Numerous others have had to quarantine.

One person invited to a reception told DailyMail.com earlier on Tuesday that the invitation made no mention of face masks or any COVID-related precautions. 

The Official White House Christmas Tree sits in the Cross Hall and Blue Room as the focus of the holiday decorations - it has bright yellow ribbons in contrast with the red ribbons on the rest of the trees

The Official White House Christmas Tree sits in the Cross Hall and Blue Room as the focus of the holiday decorations – it has bright yellow ribbons in contrast with the red ribbons on the rest of the trees

Decorations in the red room are dedicated to first responders, front line workers and essential employees like grocery store workers

Decorations in the red room are dedicated to first responders, front line workers and essential employees like grocery store workers

The holiday events range from tours of the White House holiday decorations – Melania Trump unveiled her ‘America the Beautiful’ theme on Monday – to cocktail receptions to black tie balls. 

Invitations go out a variety of people, including the president’s supporters, White House staff and their families, donors, lawmakers, and senior staffers on Capitol Hill. 

The annual Congressional Ball, a black-tie event held on December 10, is the biggest party of the White House season.  

The Republican Party pays for the events, The Washington Post reported, which can run up to millions of dollars. 

The White House packed calendar comes as work places around the nation have canceled holiday gatherings out of precaution and families are spending holidays apart due to the coronavirus.  

The White House parties this year will be smaller than they were in the past and there will be COVID precautions in place, a spokesperson for the first lady said.

‘The People’s House will celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah while providing the safest environment possible. This includes smaller guest lists, masks will be required and available, social distancing encouraged while on the White House grounds, and hand sanitizer stations throughout the State Floor,’ Melania’s chief of staff Stephanie Grisham said. 

She noted the food will be individually plated and all service staff will wear masks and gloves. 

‘Attending the parties will be a very personal choice. It is a longstanding tradition for people to visit and enjoy the cheer and iconic decor of the annual White House Christmas celebrations,’ Grisham said. 



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To tree or not to tree: Christmas tree debate rages on



TO PUT up, or not put the Christmas tree before the week of Christmas? The eternal debate comes around each festive season and we asked our readers for their opinions.

With Christmas puddings and decorations appearing earlier every year, the debate around whether Christmas trees should appear four weeks before Christmas trundles on.

Our readers are all for the Christmas cheer and getting into the festive spirit after all that 2020 has thrown at us.

Brooke Smith said that no one could be judged over Christmas due to the happiness it brings people.

“Christmas brings happiness and happy memories of past times so no one should judge when you want to do yours on 1st December. I do mine earlier cause it reminds me of good times with my nan,” Ms Smith said.

Lyn Vidler said that after a year which has thrown a pandemic, flood and droughts our way, we deserve to do whatever makes us happy.

“After the year we have had, if putting up your Christmas tree now brightens your day, go for it,” Ms Vidler said.

Ben Griffin encouraged all the Northern Rivers residents to get into the holiday spirit this year.

“If anything, the world needs lots of Christmas cheer this year because of COVID-19, so I encourage everyone to get into the Christmas Spirit and go all out,” Mr Griffin said.





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Christmas without family: How to prevent loneliness


Many of us are worried about our mental health and not being able to see loved ones over the festive period, Samaritans reveals

Christmas can be a tough time for some, even without a global pandemic to deal with. But, with restrictions on socialising this year, separation from family and loved ones is one of the biggest concerns facing Samaritans callers this Christmas, the charity’s latest research shows.

A survey with over 1,400 of the charity’s volunteers found that around a quarter who took part (27%) have spoken to people who were feeling concerned about their wellbeing over the winter period.

The charity’s volunteers said that the most common worries were about being separated from family and loved ones, and how they will cope with being lonely during Christmas or having to spend Christmas on their own.

Other common concerns include worrying about the wellbeing of loved ones who are already feeling lonely as a result of restrictions, and the impact of colder weather and shorter days. Volunteers also said that people were feeling concerned about their financial situation, with many questioning if they will be able to pay bills and buy presents.

Samaritans volunteers have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic to ensure their vital service is available around the clock for anyone who needs help. Since lockdown in March, volunteers have provided emotional support over one million times via phone, email and letters.

Last Christmas, Samaritans responded to over a quarter of a million calls for help and over 10,000 calls for help came on Christmas Day alone.

No one should struggle alone, and Samaritans is encouraging people to look out for anyone who may be feeling lonely or isolated as we head into the festive season.

Samaritans CEO Julie Bentley said: “It has been an unprecedented year with the pandemic affecting so many people’s health and wellbeing. It would be a tragedy if we weren’t there for those in distress.

“We know that people struggle more at Christmas, as it’s a time when loneliness can really hit home. Regardless of what happens with Covid restrictions, we want people to know that confidential support is available 24/7, and that we are there for everyone.”

How to prevent loneliness this Christmas

If you can’t be physically present with someone you love this Christmas, we know how difficult it feels right now. Here are some tips to help you prepare for a different festive period and to help you feel connected, even from afar.

Talk more

It’s essential to look after our mental health – and the mental health of others – by continuing to check in on anyone who may be struggling. Talking is good – whether it’s with a friend, family member, a qualified therapist or a confidential helpline like Samaritans.

It might be helpful to plan phone or video calls in advance, so you can both have something to look forward to.


Plan to do things you enjoy

If the thought of a very different festive period feels upsetting right now, it’s easy to forget all the things you love about Christmas that you can still do. Try to embrace some of your old traditions, and even make some new ones this year, if you can.


If you can’t be with your loved ones to go for a walk together on Christmas day, why not arrange a time to go for a walk and phone them? “Just because we can’t go out for regular, socially distanced, walks at the moment, it doesn’t mean we can’t bring our loved ones along with us,” says counsellor Catherine Beach.

“Have you thought of live streaming your walk to the woods? Just be sure to mind the trees, lampposts, roads, etc when recording!”

Reach out if you need support

No matter how bad you feel, you are important and you deserve to be happy.

Remember, Samaritans is there for anyone struggling – available to listen 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They won’t judge or tell you what to do. You can call for free on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org or visit samaritans.org for more information.

Or, you could try talking to a qualified counsellor. While online counselling is different from a standard face-to-face session, it allows you to access help whenever and wherever you are.

Counselling Directory currently lists more than 15,000 online therapists who are ready and available to help you navigate this difficult time.



Thousands of dedicated Samaritans volunteers will be helping people to cope over the festive period, with around 1,500 expected to make themselves available on Christmas Day alone.

The charity is asking people to send a Christmas gift to help Samaritans continue to be there for those who need emotional support. Making a donation for as little as £5 will help Samaritans answer a call for help from somebody struggling this Christmas.






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Boris Johnson says people should get Covid test before visiting elderly relatives for Christmas – Channel 4 News


Boris Johnson has suggested that anyone who wants to visit elderly relatives over Christmas should get a rapid coronavirus test, despite warnings that community testing won’t be fully up and running in many areas until the new year.

The government is offering local authorities in England the chance to get funding for mass testing programmes, after a pilot scheme in Liverpool. But they’re not likely to get help from the armed forces in large numbers.



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Melania Trump unveils White House Christmas decorations – weeks after secret recording revealed | US News


Melania Trump has unveiled the White House Christmas decorations for the final time as first lady.

In a departure from previous years, Mrs Trump chose traditional green trees for the 132 rooms at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

This year 125 volunteers helped decorate 62 trees, put up 106 wreaths, more than 1,200ft of garland, over 3,200 strands of lights and 17,000 bows to reflect Mrs Trump’s “America the Beautiful” theme for the festive season.

Monday’s big reveal came just weeks after a secret recording emerged in which the first lady was heard complaining about decorating for the holidays.

Image:
The White House Cross Hall is decorated with traditional green trees in a departure from previous years
Melania Trump with the White House Christmas tree
Image:
Melania Trump with the White House Christmas tree as it arrived last week

The July 2018 conversation was recorded by former White House aide Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who published a tell-all book about their relationship and was fired this year.

In it, Mrs Trump said: “I’m working… my a** off on the Christmas stuff, that you know, who gives a f*** about the Christmas stuff and decorations? But I need to do it, right?”

This year, frontline workers and first responders are the focus of the Red Room decorations, where the trees have been adorned with handmade ornaments.

The official White House Christmas tree in the Blue Room – a fir more than 18ft tall – was designed by students, who were asked by the National Park Service to depict what makes their home states beautiful.

White House Red Room decorated for Christmas
Image:
Frontline workers are the focus of the Red Room decorations, where the trees have been adorned with handmade ornaments

In the state dining room a Gingerbread White House – made from more than 400lb of dough, gum paste, chocolate and royal icing – features the Rose Garden for the first time after Mrs Trump renovated it this year.

The Rose Garden was where President Donald Trump hosted the so-called “super spreader” event in September that saw Amy Coney Barrett sworn in as a Supreme Court Judge and was linked to several cases of coronavirus among White House staff.

Gingerbread White House displayed in the state dining room
Image:
The gingerbread White House displayed in the state dining room features the Rose Garden for the first time

Mr and Mrs Trump tested positive for the virus days later.

This year, a buck and a crane are featured in a three-dimensional art hanging in windows of the Green Room, where American wildlife is the highlight.

Green Room of the White House decorated for Christmas
Image:
American wildlife is the focus of the Green Room this year

The East Wing walkway is lined with green foliage from different states.

Trees and other decorations in the East Room feature planes, trains and cars – including models of Air Force One – in a nod to triumphs in innovations and technology.

Christmas trees line the East Room of the White House
Image:
The East Room’s theme is innovation and technology with a models of trains and planes including Air Force One

And presents beneath decorated trees lining the Cross Hall bear tags that say “peace,” “love,” “faith” and “joy”.

In previous years, Mrs Trump’s unusual festive choices have included red trees that were likened to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and bright white foliage instead of the traditional green.

This December is the last the Trumps will spend in the White House, before president-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on 20 January.

Mr Trump continues to falsely insist he won the 3 November election.



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