The Trumps unveiled their first official White House Christmas portrait this week, featuring Donald and Melania Trump flanked by flags and Christmas trees in the Cross Hall. Once the first lady shared it on social media on Thursday, Twitter immediately piled on the Trumps' Christmas photo, making tweaks and commenting on the glaring absence of their son, Barron Trump.
The Trumps' photo is, by many standards, your typical White House Christmas portrait. The president is dressed in a crisp suit and Melania in a black gown, and they're both beaming at the camera — not at all an unusual photo to send out as a Christmas card. But the sparkling decorations aside, lots of people noticed how their 11-year-old son — the president's youngest child — wasn't there. Barron, after all, is a neutral figure in the Trump family, one whose place in the White House is not at all political, compared to the rest of the president's adult children.
It's not the first time Barron has been absent from official White House events or photo ops. He wasn't there in January when president-elect Trump participated in the wreath-laying ceremony, and he wasn't around for the inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial, either. (All of Trump's other children were there, which was what made Barron's absence more noticeable.) He didn't show up, either, for the congressional picnic on the White House lawn in June, weeks after he moved from New York to Washington, D.C., with Melania.
While it wasn't always this way, the president's young children are typically acknowledged as off-limits to criticism by the media and the public. It's an understanding that has led to Chelsea Clinton defending Barron from media critics, and Ivanka Trump demanding that the press stop invading Malia Obama's privacy. (Clinton, who was mercilessly bullied by the media when she was a teenager in the White House, has often voiced support for other first children after her.)
While many immediate reactions to the Trumps' Christmas photo were about Barron's absence, others seized the opportunity to flex their Photoshop skills or comment on the Trumps' positions in the photo.
Then there were the tweets that jabbed at how politicized saying "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" has become. Trump, who has often referred to the "war on Christmas" to illustrate how the Christian right in the United States is being persecuted and discriminated against, vowed to bring "Merry Christmas" back when he was on the campaign trail. In October, he told a crowd of supporters at a Christian conservatives event, "We're saying 'Merry Christmas' again."
This year, the White House specifically noted that the Trumps' photo was a Christmas portrait, in contrast to the Obamas' photo last year — with the entire family present — that explicitly included the words "Happy Holidays."
The Trumps' photo wasn't the only Christmas-related thing that caused a buzz. Earlier this week, the White House sent out a request for people to sign "The Official First Family Christmas Card" — presumably for the entire Trump family and not just Donald and Melania, though the photo also left Barron out — and not everyone was on board with that. Many took the opportunity to add an insult or two to the note. The GOP also tweeted from its official Twitter account a link to sign the card, along with a link to buy a "Make America Great Again" Christmas tree ornament.
While the mystery of Barron's absence from both his parents' Christmas portrait and the first family's Christmas card photo will likely remain unsolved, both certainly gave people enough to talk about for the week.