Christmastime at the Obama White House

By Lindsey Ellerson

Dec 2, 2009 3:11pm

ABC News’ Ann Compton and Sunlen Miller report: It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the White House. The theme of the White House Christmas decorations this year is: “Reflect, Rejoice, and Renew,” which First Lady Michelle Obama today unveiled in a preview event, showing-off the freshly-decorated White House. “For the Obama family, Christmas and the New Year has always been a time to reflect on our many blessings, to rejoice in the pleasure of spending time with our family and our friends, and to renew our commitment to one another and to the causes that we believe in,” the first lady said today showing off the new decorations in the Grand Foyer of the White House. “And I wanted to continue that part of the tradition during our first holiday season here at the White House.  And this year has been filled with an infinite number of blessings for me and my family.” The first lady’s office says that scaled down and minimalist decorations that are scattered about the State Floor – many recycled from past administrations – reflect not only the hard economic times but also the administration’s emphasis on the environment and recycling. Natural material like magnolia, hydrangea, honeysuckle vine, and pepper berries adorn the trees and wreaths in each of the rooms on the State Floor. Dried room materials from the first harvest of the White House Kitchen Garden were also included in some of the decorations. Mrs. Obama chose traditional decorations that we re-interpreted to reflect the “scale, architecture, and color palette of each room,” the first lady’s office says. The State Dining Room decorations were designed to complement the coloring in the William Cosgwell portrait of Abraham Lincoln that hands above the fireplace on the west wall, the first lady’s office says – including two Fraser Fir trees adorned with natural pods, berries, magnolia branches, honeysuckle garland, pee gee hydrangea, and sugar pine cones. The real wow factor of the White House decorations this year is the annual gingerbread house – made over the last six weeks by White House pastry chef Bill Yosses. “This year we’ve included something a little bit different,” the first lady said today. “In addition to the gingerbread White House we also have the White House Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn, a shadow box that lets you look into the gingerbread White House and view the State Dining Room.  And I just saw there’s also a little Bo replica.” The 400 pound white house replica is made out of white chocolate, and gingerbread with flourishes of marzipan to create the vegetables in the garden, and the furniture in the state dining room. The entire house is edible except the copper chandelier which hangs in the state dining room shadow box. In the East Room the four fireplaces are decorated with fresh garlands, blue hydrangea, seeded eucalyptus and beaded fruit. Four 60” wreaths suspended with silk cord, hang behind the mantles. In the Grand Foyer there are two 15 foot Fraser Fir trees adorned with reflective iridescent glass balls and claret colored beaded glass branches. The Blue Room holds this year’s official White House Christmas Tree—a Douglas Fir standing 18 ½ feet high and nearly 13 feet wide,. The tree is lit with environmentally sound LED lights and decorated with ornaments from previous administrations. “We decided to do something just a little different,” Mrs. Obama said. “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. ” Among those local landmarks on display on the ornaments are the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, Pompey’s pillar in Billings, Montana, and the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. The ornaments are hung with blue ribbon embroidered with the words, “reflect, rejoice, renew,” in several different languages. In the Red Room, The White House tradition of a “cranberry tree” was modified by embellishing the mantle with a cranberry garland and two cranberry wraths around the necks of the carved mantle figures. The Green Room showcases two 8 foot dried pepper berry topiary trees made from 400 bunches of Californian grown pepper berries.
There are six living trees with their roots balled and wrapped in burlap at the East Wing, West Wing, and North Portico entrances. These trees will be adopted by the National Parks Service after Christmas is over to be replanted. The decorating and design committee spent 3,400 hours of manpower and started Friday afternoon through the weekend in order to prepare the People’s House for public viewing. In coordination with the East Wing, Residence staff, 92 volunteers from 24 states the First Lady designed the decorations inspired by the “residential and “warm” atmosphere by the House itself.  This year – the White House even got a little help from Simon Doonan, the creative director of Barney’s New York – who played a role in the design of the displays this year. During the event today the first lady highlighted two causes which the White House will be supporting this holiday season – local food banks, and the Toys for Tots program. “I know many people approach the holidays in the same way in their own lives, and that at this time of year for so many people, they are looking for opportunities to give thanks and to give back.  And we’re doing the same thing here at the White House.” In coordination with the Corporation for National and Community Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the first lady today launched the United We Serve “Feed a Neighbor” initiative. The program will connect Americans to opportunities like delivering meals to homebound seniors, offering professional skills at a food pantry, or planting a community garden and sharing produce with neighbors.  – Ann Compton and Sunlen Miller

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