The White House round of holiday parties kicks off this week. President Obama and First Lady Michelle hosted a Hanukkah party on Thursday night and the volunteers who helped decorate the White House for Christmas -- there are 19 trees -- were feted on Wednesday.
"And I have to say the house looks more beautiful than it did last year. It is really something special," Mrs. Obama said at a Wednesday morning preview where the main audience was the children of military families.
An estimated 100,000 folks are expected to tour the decorated rooms during the holiday season. Some 12,000 will actually be guests at the 20 or so holiday parties and receptions the White House will host in December. For some reason the White House would not release the specific number of holiday festivities. As for the much coveted photo with the Obamas: some parties will feature a chance for one, some won't.
A White House Christmas
Planning for the 2010 White House Christmas started last Spring, with the theme this year, "Simple Gifts."
"In the end, that spirit of kindness and generosity is really what the holiday season is all about. And it was the idea behind this year's theme...because in the end, the greatest blessings of all are the ones that don't cost a thing -- the time that we spend with our loved ones, the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, and the joy we feel from reaching out to those in need," she said.
As for holiday decor, here's what's new at the White House:
-- In the aptly named Green Room, a tribute to the environment, with recycled magazines and newspapers turned into wreathes and trees. Notes the White House in a decoration guide: "This year to promote conservation, the majority of the holiday decorations that fill the White House were repurposed from past years."
-- In a corridor of the East Wing called Booksellers Row, greeting visitors is a double life size statue of Bo, the Obama family dog, made out of pipe cleaners by the White House flower shop.
-- There is a children's tree, with gingerbread ornaments made by military children, and what Mrs. Obama called "a very special Military Appreciation Tree in honor of our men and women in uniform who can't always spend the holiday season with the people they love the most."
The appreciation tree was created by Deborah Mullen, the wife of Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Old at the White House:
-- Following tradition, there is a gingerbread White House in the State Dining Room, this year weighing 350 pounds and taking more than four weeks to create. The Red Room is decorated with cranberries and scarlet magnolia wreathes.
-- The White House Hanukkah party on the second night of the holiday will feature entertainment by saxophonist Joshua Redman and, of course, a menorah lighting. The White House kitchen -- as is customary in events targeted to Jewish invitees -- will be koshered under the supervision of a rabbi.
-- There will be two parties for the press, one for members of Congress, another for White House staff and Secret Service personnel, and seven receptions for a category called "Americans from across the country." A party for close Obama friends and family is Dec. 11. I'm not sure if these are separate parties but the White House tells me the president and first lady "believe it's a priority to include others like: community based leaders from across the country; military families, wounded warriors and veterans communities; faith leaders, business and civic leaders and grassroots constituency leaders and members."