Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Halloween Parties at the White House

To celebrate their first Halloween at White House last year, First Lady Michelle Obama got into the spirit by dressing as a leopard, with furry ears, dramatic cat like eyes, and a spotted orange-and-black animal print top. For his part, President Obama played it safe, dressing as, well, “a middle-aged dad, with a black cardigan, checkered shirt and sensible brown slacks.”

According to the Washington Post, about 2,600 trick-or-treaters from local schools “swooped, skulked and pitter-pattered their way through the front drive of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, stopping at the North Portico to get their treat: a plastic baggy containing White House M&Ms, an orange sugar cookie in the shape of the residence, and clumps of [dried] apricots, apples and papayas.”

Meanwhile, wandering around in front of the orange-lit White House were hundreds of odd creatures, including musicians dressed as skeletons, walking trees, Star Wars characters, and dancers dressed as red and gold butterflies inside giant bubbles.

Before casually chatting with the trick-or-treaters, President Obama and the First Lady hosted a Halloween reception for military families in the East Room of the White House. In his brief welcoming remarks, the president acknowledged the many sacrifices made by military families and said, “'We are so grateful to you. Especially now, a lot of the times, you guys are separated. It's tough. The spouses who are at home are serving just as much as folks who are deployed. So we are just so thrilled that you guys could be here.”

Of course, this wasn't the first Halloween event held at the White House. Known for her playful personality, Mamie Eisenhower hosted a Halloween party for the wives of White House staff members. Described as “the most interesting party ever given in the dignified setting of the White House,” it included “skeletons hanging from the State Dining Room chandeliers and witches on broomsticks riding over the white tablecloth.”

In more recent years, Richard Nixon’s daughter Tricia hosted a Halloween party for underprivileged children while the Fords and Carters welcomed trick-or-treaters from charitable organizations like UNICEF. And, in 1989, President George Bush and his wife Barbara treated 500 local school children to a Halloween party, where they loaded them up with treats and taught them about the dangers of drugs.

FAST FACT: Although know one knows exactly how the Obamas plan to celebrate Halloween this year, we do know that the holiday had its beginnings in an ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of the dead. According to historians at the Library of Congress, “the wearing of costumes and roaming from door-to-door demanding treats can be traced to the Celtic period and the first few centuries of the Christian era, when it was thought that the souls of the dead were out and around, along with fairies, witches, and demons. Offerings of food and drink were left out to placate them. As the centuries wore on, people began dressing like these dreadful creatures, performing antics in exchange for food and drink." This practice is called mumming, from which the modern-day practice of trick-or-treating evolved. To this day, witches, ghosts, and skeleton figures are among the favorite disguises worn by children each Halloween!