'Tis the Season for Holiday Parties at the White House

Welcoming friends and relatives during the holiday season can be stressful for even the most patient and experienced hosts.

What if your guest list included more than 50,000 people over the course of three weeks?

This month, President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama become the entertainers-in-chief, hosting nearly 30 parties during their first holiday season at the White House.

VIDEO: Lighting Up the Christmas Tree at the BiltmorePlay

More than 50,000 people have received invitations to attend one of the 17 holiday parties and 11 open houses at the White House that started last week and will continue right up until the Obamas leave for vacation at the end of the month.

This isn't just throwing open the White House doors and putting out some drinks and appetizers. The Obamas will attend each party, greet guests in a receiving line, pose for photos at most of the events and even mingle among the partygoers at a select few.

ABC News video of the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree lighting.Play

This year, the holiday season parties are under increased, and perhaps unprecedented, scrutiny after the incident at the Obamas' first state dinner, when two aspiring reality television stars were able to get past security despite not having an invitation.

The "gatecrashers" incident put an unflattering focus on social secretary Desiree Rogers, who is the principle coordinator for social events at the White House and for the president and first lady.

The Salahi gatecrash also had a quick impact on the way the White House admits guests to holiday parties. Unlike the night of the state dinner, when the Salahis were admitted by Secret Service, White House staffers now stand at security checkpoints to help the Secret Service manage guests.

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"We had staff at the security checkpoint to ensure that if there was any confusion about lists, those would be double-checked with somebody representing the social office," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said after the first party of the season on Dec. 1. "That was an assessment made based on something that we believed could have been added, and we've made those changes as of last night."

The change follows the procedures used by previous administrations, where a representative from the social secretary's office would attend to security checkpoints for events.

White House on Display for Holiday Visitors

The Obamas pledged to open up the White House and make it a more open, welcoming place to average Americans. They invited 30,000 visitors to the White House for the largest ever Easter egg roll on the South Lawn, organized a music series featuring artists and students, and started the year by hosting weekly cocktail parties to get to know members of Congress, their families and other key figures in Washington.

VIDEO: The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C., lights up its rooms with decorations.Play

But so far, the holiday season at the White House has been similar to those of past administrations.

There have been parties for members of Congress, congressional staff and White House staff.

Coming up are parties for the military, the Secret Service, White House residence staff and even the media corps that covers the administration.

Guests at the White House holiday parties get to explore the mansion's state floor, which holds famous rooms like the East, Red, Green and Blue rooms and the State Dining Room.

The president's Marine Band entertains guests with traditional carols throughout the evening.

Visitors can be as snap-happy as they like: Cameras are allowed in all of the rooms, a rare chance to take pictures of the artwork hanging on the mansion's walls and to take in the holiday decorations.

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The theme of this year's decorations is "reflect, rejoice and renew." The displays are scaled down from previous seasons in an acknowledgement of the tough economic times and also to highlight the Obamas' emphasis on recycling.

Some of the decorations, in fact, are from previous administrations, but with an Obama twist.

"We decided to do something just a little different," Michelle Obama said earlier this month. "We took about 800 ornaments left over from previous administrations, we sent them to 60 local community groups throughout the country, and asked them to decorate them to pay tribute to a favorite local landmark and then send them back to us for display here at the White House."

Guests still will be able to admire an annual, mouthwatering White House tradition -- the gingerbread replica of the president's mansion, made over the last six weeks by White House pastry chef Bill Yosses.

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The 400-pound White House is made out of white chocolate and gingerbread with flourishes of marzipan to create the vegetables in the Obamas' garden and the furniture in the State Dining Room.

The best part? The entire gingerbread house is edible, save for the copper chandelier that hangs in the replica of the State Dining Room. But hands off: It's not meant for the guests to taste-test.

Residence Staff Puts in Overtime During Holiday Season

The holiday season is not a time of merriment for the hardworking staff of the White House residence. Someone has to make the desserts and hors d'oeuvre crab cakes for all of those guests, and spruce up the place to accept visitors.


"Working on all that is a horrific experience," joked former White House executive chef Walter Scheib. "During the Christmas season, for those 20-some days, the chefs will be somewhere between 100 and 110 hours a week."

Scheib said that all of the food is fresh and made from scratch in the White House's relatively tiny kitchen -- 28 feet by 29 feet, according to Scheib. He called it a "gigantic logistical push" to serve the large number of guests.

"We would make several hundred thousand crab cakes, individually, one-by-one," Scheib said. "We would go through between 1,200 and 1,500 pounds of crab meat."

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So can the White House kitchen staff just say one night that it's time for leftovers or cereal for dinner for the first family?

"That works really well until you actually say it and they find someone else to do the job," Scheib said, laughing.

Scheib estimates that as many people come through the White House in the month of December as the rest of the year combined.

After playing hosts for the entire month of December, it's no wonder that the Obamas are planning to take some time off for vacation at Christmas and New Year's -- and not bringing 50,000 of their closest friends with them.

ABC News' Jake Tapper, Ann Compton and Sunlen Miller contributed to this report.