At the first party of the Obamas’ last White House holiday season, Michelle Obama got a little emotional.

As military families sat on gold ballroom chairs in the White House’s East Room, the first lady talked about how proud she was to “open this house to as many people from as many backgrounds as possible.” She mentioned that inviting military families to be first to see the decorations was one of her favorite holiday traditions. She began thanking the ushers, florists, carpenters, chefs and calligraphers that make all the magic happen. Then her voice cracked. “So before I get choked up,” she said. “Let me officially kick off our final White House holiday season.”

This year’s decorations have the theme “The Gift of the Holidays.” A giant red gift package, serving as a sort of outdoor selfie station, proclaims the theme just before the door to the East Visitor Entrance Hall. The scent of the holidays is everywhere, from a Cookie Crumble candle in the security guard station to the roasting meats in the outdoor kitchen.

First lady Michelle Obama officially kicked off the holiday season at the White House on Nov. 29 by honoring the U.S. military and their families amid festive decorations. (Reuters)

For the media preview, volunteers were stationed in the White House public rooms. Patricia Ochan, a military spouse from Arlington, spoke about the 19-foot Blue Room tree, a Douglas fir from Pennsylvania that she helped decorate. The preamble to the Constitution can be read on the tree’s garland, and ornaments honor military service members. “The most exciting part, honestly, was doing one for the military families,” Ochan said. “I know what it feels like not to have your loved one with you home for the holiday. So I put my whole heart into this.”

As always, the gingerbread White House has a place of honor in the State Dining Room, with 150 pounds of gingerbread, 100 pounds of bread dough, 20 pounds of gum paste, 20 pounds of icing and 20 pounds of sculpted sugar pieces.


A gingerbread White House is on display in the State Dining Room. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

More holiday trimmings:

  • More than 8,000 bows and ribbons line the East Hallway
  • Larger-than-life-size replicas of presidential pups Bo and Sunny made of more than 25,000 yarn pom-poms (making a return appearance from last year).
  • “Snowball” arches made of more than 6,000 ornaments.
  • Gumdrop wreaths hang from the windows of the State Dining Room.
  • “Let’s Move”-inspired healthy decorations in the Green and Red rooms, including wreaths made with fruits and greens, garlands made of limes, and gift boxes made from cranberries.
  • A digital interface for sending holiday messages to the troops.

Among the new decorative elements are the gingerbread-style Lego houses in the State Dining Room, representing 56 states and territories and made from more than 200,000 of the plastic pieces. This year’s decorations are 90 percent repurposed and 10 percent new. Last year’s “snowpeople,” who were displayed outside in 2015, are now safe and warm indoors in the Ground Floor Corridor. One new holiday tree was not on view to the press: a tree entirely made of garden hoses on display at the White House Kitchen Garden.

Meanwhile as members of the media were served hot cider and holiday cookies outdoors before the military families arrived, a last-minute tree tagged “Yellow Oval Room” was wrapped in canvas and carefully carried in the front door of the White House, destined no doubt for a glamorous holiday life in the Obamas’ private quarters.


First lady Michelle Obama high-fives a little girl in the State Dining Room as she hosts military families for the unveiling of the White House holiday decorations. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

After her remarks in the East Room, Michelle Obama joined service members’ children in the State Dining Room, making personalized felt stockings and decorating salt dough ornaments. She introduced Bo and Sunny, sitting on the floor in her full-skirted brocade party dress as the kids petted the dogs, her metallic pumps sparkling as cameras clicked.

Then with a wave and a smile, she was gone. “All right, guys,” she said, “See you later.”

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