At White House holiday season No. 7, the Obamas appear to have this gig down.

By now, Michelle Obama is a pro in dressing up the place. Rocking a Grinch-green sleeveless jacquard party dress from the fall 2015 Michael Kors collection, gold stilettos and drop earrings, the first lady welcomed military families to the White House Wednesday for the inaugural viewing of the 2015 decorations.

“As we ring in another holiday season,” she told the crowd, “we’re going to make sure that the more than 68,000 visitors who will pass through these rooms over the coming weeks know about and honor your service and sacrifice.”

Obama has established many of her own holiday traditions while first lady, including her steady recognition of military service. And rather than the glittering, glamorous decorations of some first ladies past, she has gone for a different kind of sparkle, with natural materials, repurposed ornaments and the simple joys of kids and pets. She’s also brought the decorations into the digital age with crowdsourced lighting patterns and interactive holiday cards. For 2015, she had an iPad station installed on the East Landing for visitors to send digital messages to service members.

Guests have a lot to take in. There’s the 500-pound White House gingerbread house, which includes 150 pounds of dark chocolate. Yarn replicas of Obama dogs Bo and Sunny stand next to two tall topiary trees made of bright green tennis balls. There is candy galore in the State Dining Room, but it’s glued on balls and trees. Ornaments number more than 70,000, and a giant red gumball machine is topped with a holiday snow globe filled with more candy creations. About 90 percent of the ornaments and embellishments that appear on the 62 trees and on mantels and antique sideboards are recycled from Christmases past.

If you look out the window, you’ll spot 56 towering “snowpeople” in the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden that represent the number of states and territories in the United States. What would Jackie say?


A Secret Service officer walks by the 56 “snowpeople” in the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Eighty-nine volunteers from across the country spent five days gluing ornaments and hanging garland. One was Christina Donovan, a floral and event designer from Massachusetts who was inspired to apply after watching last year’s White House Christmas special on HGTV. She and her fiance sent in online applications and found out a month ago that they were chosen. “We are so proud that we could be part of this tradition,” says Donovan, who helped decorate the Blue Room tree, which has messages to the troops wound around it on a long ribbon. (This year, the 18-foot-tall tree was svelte enough to fit inside without requiring removal of the front doors, as was the case last year.)


The Blue Room tree has messages to the troops wound around it on a long ribbon. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

There are also three rooms decorated for the holidays by fashion designers: Duro Olowu decked out the Vermeil Room with vintage and African fabrics and beaded ornaments; Carolina Herrera embellished the China Room with navy plaid fabrics and ribbons in Kailua Blue, reflecting the Hawaiian-inspired color of the Obama state china service; and Carol Lim and Humberto Leon of Opening Ceremony and Kenzo turned the library into a holiday forest of novels and manuscripts.

“We sometimes forget what the holiday season is all about. But sharing this special time with our military families reminds us that this season is about so much more,” Obama told her guests. At the end of her speech in the East Room, as is her tradition, she invited the kids in the crowd to come with her to the State Dining Room and make crafts and treats. Roshan Ghaffarian, the White House chief floral designer who started her job a few months ago, helped the kids with their holiday projects. (No word on how much she was involved in the holiday extravaganza; traditionally, much of it is planned six months in advance.)

In 2013, one little girl was a bit overwhelmed by Portuguese water dog Sunny. No one was hurt, but in her remarks yesterday, Obama warned her small guests in advance. “So anybody who is afraid of dogs, you tell me, okay? But they’re pretty nice. They’re bigger than they look on TV.”

The first lady still held tight to the leashes of Sunny and Bo as she sat on her new dining room rug, chatting with the kids and making sure they didn’t feed the dogs any popcorn.