In D.C., lawmakers deck their halls with a holiday decorating contest. A Coloradan judged this year’s competition

· Dec. 21, 2023, 4:00 am
Rep. Deborah Ross of NC and her staff walk through their office decorations with Judge and former Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter.Rep. Deborah Ross of NC and her staff walk through their office decorations with Judge and former Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter.Caitlyn Kim/CPR News
Rep. Deborah Ross of NC and her staff walk through their office decorations with Judge and former Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter.

Former Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter had something small, shiny and gold clutched in his hand as he approached what used to be his office on the second floor of the Longworth House Office Building in Washington, D.C.

It was a trophy with Santa Claus on top. At its base, it read “Champion, Deck the Halls of Congress.”

Since 2019, the offices on the floor of the building have held a fun — and competitive, these are politicians after all —  office holiday decorating battle.

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This year, a bipartisan pair of lawmakers invited Perlmutter to come and judge the decorations. And unlike then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who judged the contest in 2021, Perlmutter wasn’t going to come empty-handed.

Caitlyn Kim/CPR News
A trophy with Santa Claus on top and the words “Champion, Deck the Halls of Congress” at its base.

Perlmutter, who retired at the end of the last Congress, along with fellow Colorado Rep. Jason Crow and Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher, all tried to outdo one another in 2019, leading to some holiday hijinks.

It’s since become an annual tradition that has grown.

“It brings a little levity, joy, light to these hallways that sometimes can be pretty dark and depressing,” Perlmutter said.

Crow, who has moved up to the third floor this Congress, put it this way: “It’s hard to walk around any floor without running into an inflatable or a light-up reindeer or something.”

He’s not wrong. The number and types of inflatables have grown: sledding Santas, sunbathing Santas, surfing Santas, even a pirate Santa, snowmen, penguins, Hanukkah bears, Grinches, Yodas and Baby Yodas, and even an inflatable Christmas tree that hit the ceiling. 

Snowflakes made out of coffee filters and candy canes hung from the ceiling and even some doors this year, while train sets found homes on the floor. There was even a “House Resolution,” listing everyone on the floor as sponsors to recognize “an unofficial holiday decoration contest, and its associated bipartisan cheer and sportsmanship, during the holiday season and for other purposes.”

And many representatives themed their decorations to their state or paid homage to the judge. More than one office had something for Perlmutter: a decoration or even putting his face on a Luke Skywalker holiday cutout.

Gallagher said the contest has taken on a life of its own.

“I am just surprised so many people participated this year. It's gotten to a whole ‘nother level,” the Wisconsin Republican said, joking, “It's like when AI becomes sentient, we can no longer control it.” 

Colorado’s 2nd-floor entry, Rep. Brittany Pettersen, created a Colorado skiing backdrop, complete with projected snowfall on top.

Caitlyn Kim/CPR News
CO Rep. Brittany Pettersen went with a classic Colorado scene for her office's first holiday entry in the competition.

“It’s about always being positive, finding that connection, bringing people together, and bringing a little competition to bear,” she said. And she pointed out, it shows that “it’s not all doom and gloom all-time in Congress.”

But this year, even this fun tradition couldn’t escape the political rancor that has been on display, with some offices sending a decidedly political message, rather than one of goodwill and cheer.

One office built a wall with elves sitting at the top, and signs that read “Have Document Ready” or “Border Patrol Elves Only.”  While another office only put one sign out. It read “Due to Bidenflation All we Could Afford Is This Crummy Sign.”

As Gallagher explained to Perlmutter, “The controversy on the second floor, I think — and I’m not trying to influence the judge — is that some of the most ornate decorations are highly political this year.”

Walking around the second floor, talking with staff and members of Congress on their way to vote, Perlmutter said many welcome the change of scenery “instead of all the heavy things that they have to think about, work on, talk about this. (It’s) just a change of pace and one that this time of year is good for everybody's soul.”

Perlmutter and Gallagher popped up to Crow’s office to see his decorations, which featured an inflatable snowman in a truck, presents for Colorado sports figures like CU Head Football Coach Prime and skier Mikaela Shiffrin, as well as a depiction of Democratic members of Colorado’s House delegation and Texas Republican Rep. Morgan Luttrell, Crow’s office neighbor, skiing and snowboarding down paper mountains. 

Caitlyn Kim/CPR News
Rep. Jason Crow's office decorations included members Colorado congress members skiing. He also included his neighbor GOP Rep. Morgan Luttrell of Texas.

Perlmutter joked that Crow won “for the third floor.” But the trophy was only for the winner of the second floor.

And after seeing all the amazing decorations on the floor, Perlmutter said he almost regretted agreeing to the task of selecting a “winner.” 

In the end, Perlmutter awarded the champion Santa trophy to Gallagher’s office, with its stable of inflatables, Wisconsin and Green Bay Packers pride, presents around the door and construction paper fireplace. Perlmutter said Gallagher and his staff had “stepped up his game.”

And with the trophy came a task: Gallagher will be on the hook to judge next year.

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