A Miracle on Pennsylvania Avenue

By Megan Voelkel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sprucing up Pennsylvania Avenue's most prestigious address for the holidays is never a walk in the park -- and this year's theme, which honors the country's preserved landmarks, was no exception.

The creation of the annual winter wonderland, as HGTV's "White House Christmas 2007" special reveals, required months of extensive planning and construction -- all in anticipation of the 60,000 guests who will visit the bedecked halls this season.

Among those coordinating the details: first lady Laura Bush, who picked the theme, "Holiday in the National Parks," and is interviewed in the special.

"Here's what took place behind the scenes, and here's how it came to be," said Michael Dingley, HGTV's senior vice president of programming, describing the half-hour tour of the White House "It's the same for people at home. There's always a story behind the ornaments."

This is the 10th year HGTV has chronicled the story behind the White House's holiday decor, which evolves to fit each year's unique theme, a tradition started by first lady Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961.

Other executive traditions include a giant custom-built gingerbread house, created from original blueprints of the White House, and the official 18-foot-high Fraser fir in the Blue Room, garnished this year with 347 hand-crafted ornaments representing America's finest parks, memorials, seashores, monuments and historic spots.

Sabrina Soto, host of the special, said guiding this program was much different than her regular gig on HGTV's "Get It Sold," where she's often ripping up carpet or knee-deep in paint.

"With this, I got to look pretty for once and dress up and walk around," she said of filming the special tour through some of the White House's most famous rooms.

Soto also pitched in to help the dozens of decorators, florists and bakers orchestrating the holiday transformation -- including displaying some of the White House's 20,000 Christmas cookies.

And the park theme worked beautifully in many ways, Soto said, from the detailed ornaments sent from artists around the country to the trees trimmed top to bottom with decorative seashells and starfish -- "all the best designs of Christmas coming together in one place."

To Dingley, it's fitting that a special on the nation's best-known home is concluding the network's three-week special programming on being home for the holidays.

"It's the star atop our Christmas tree," he said. "It's the finishing, grand touch."

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