By FELICIA PATINKIN
First lady Michelle Obama will reveal this year’s Christmas theme at the White House on Nov. 30, but the top secret plans have been underway for months. After all, there are thousands of feet of garland to lay, 14-foot trees to install, and hundreds of pounds of fanciful gingerbread to bake, totaling an estimated 3,500 hours of work.
For decades, first ladies have been making their lists and checking them twice when it comes to decorating 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The first lady is “often judged on her Christmas decorations,” said author Coleen Christian Burke, who details five decades of White House holiday decorating in her new book, “Christmas with the First Ladies.”
“People are going to look to see if our first lady has good taste. And who wants to fall short? She’s having 100,000 people over for the holidays,” she said.
White House style icon Jacqueline Kennedy started the tradition of coming up with a new holiday theme for the White House decorations each year. With each administration, the new first lady has added her particular flair, and some have raised more eye-brows than others.
Nancy Reagan’s annual unveiling to the press was often alongside a celebrity decked out as Santa. In 1983, it was Mr. T — making for a merry photo op.
Often first ladies like to employ their own family decorations. Laura Bush decorated the tree with family ornaments.
Michelle Obama’s themes have revolved around themes like gratitude. Last year it was simple gifts, echoing what the first lady has said: “in the end, the greatest blessings of all are the ones that don’t cost a thing.”
“The things that are important to her all year long come out at Christmas time,” Burke explained.
So instead of handing out candy or sweets to visitors, the first lady opted for apples and had kids make their own gingerbread ornaments. (They may look good enough to eat, but they’re baked with glue instead of sugar, so don’t sneak a bite.)
Burke has recreated many of the themes so readers can bring a little White House home for the holidays. Below is a step-by-step guide to make Michele Obama’s gingerbread ornaments.
Let the decorating begin!
Michelle Obama’s Gingerbread Ornaments
Michelle Obama tapped into a long-standing White House tradition of using gingerbread men on the tree. Mrs. Obama’s gingerbread men are not edible, but they make a wonderful family project. After the gingerbread men have dried for a few days, children of all ages can help embellish them.
Rolling pin or round glass bottle
Gingerbread man cookie cutter, 3 to 5 inches high
1 cup ground cinnamon
1 cup applesauce
1/4 cup school or craft glue
Wax paper or plastic wrap
1 plastic drinking straw
Step 1: Combine the cinnamon, applesauce, and glue. Mix thoroughly. Dough should be stiff; add more cinnamon if it is too soft.
Step 2: Roll mixture between sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap to 1/4-inch thickness.
Step 3: Cut out gingerbread shapes with cutter, and make a hanging hole with straw. Move to drying rack, paper towel, or newspaper. Allow to dry for 2 to 3 days, carefully flipping occasionally. Ornaments will lighten in color as they dry.
Step 4: When dry, decorate as you like!
Tip: You can use buttons, ribbon, yarn, or fabric to decorate your gingerbread ornament.
Reprinted With Permission From The White House