Today, First Lady Michelle Obama previewed the 2013 White House holiday décor to a crowd of military families who were the first of more than 70,000 anticipated visitors this holiday season. Mrs. Obama announced this year's theme, Gather Around: Stories of the Season, a celebration of the stories and traditions that bring us together this special time of year. “Our goal is for every room and every tree to tell a story about who we are and how we gather around one another to mark the holidays,” she said. The custom of selecting an official holiday theme began in the 1960s when First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy created a nutcracker-themed Christmas for her daughter Caroline.
The 2013 décor embraces beloved White House traditions. By using thoughtful hand-made volunteer crafts and recycled classic pieces, the Gather Around decorations and 24 trees throughout the residence all tell a story. Special art displays and Christmas trees made from repurposed books help this year’s theme come alive. In total, more than 450 repurposed books were used as part of the holiday décor (they will be donated to a local school’s book drive following the holiday season). Today, military children that attended the event had the opportunity to make crafts including – a fruit wreath and a Bo-quet paper poinsettia.
This year, two of the rooms honor our military families, a tradition started by Mrs. Obama, whose Joining Forces initiative seeks to honor and support those who sacrifice so much for our freedom.
“When visitors arrive, the very first thing they’ll see is a tree decorated to pay tribute to our Armed Forces," she said. "This tree, graced with special Gold Star ornaments, tells the story of some of our greatest heroes: Those who gave their lives for our country. And any Gold Star family who visits the White House can create their own ornament to honor their loved one.”
The Blue Room also honors our military families. It holds the Official White House Christmas Tree, presented from the National Christmas Tree Association standing at 18 1⁄2 feet high and nearly 11 feet wide. According to the First Lady, the Blue Room tree is “dedicated to the idea of gathering around our military. The tree in that room is decorated with holiday greeting cards drawn by military children from bases all across the country as a way to celebrate their parents’ service.”
First Lady Michelle Obama asks us all to “find a way to honor these great Americans, not just during the holidays, but every day. And let us never forget the debt that we owe these men and women and their amazing families.” (You can share your message of thanks through the USO here)
Other traditions that continue include the annual representation of the White House in pastry form. This year, the White House Gingerbread House sits upon a gingerbread fireplace constructed with more than 1,200 Springerle cookies. Nearly 300 pounds of dough were used to make the completely edible replica. Check out the recipes for both edible and decorative Springerle cookies.
First Dog Bo Obama also made a return, but this year brought along his pal Sunny Obama. A high-fiving Bo and a playful Sunny came to life as ribbon topiaries made from approximately 1,000 yards of ribbon.
Of course, none of this would be possible if not for the volunteers who take time out of their busy lives and come from all parts of the country to help decorate the White House. This year more than 83 volunteers (16 of whom served in the military or are a part of a military family) representing 33 states and the District of Columbia worked tirelessly to transform the People’s House.
For additional information, including the 2013 Holiday Tour Book and instructions on the crafts that military children created today, go to WH.gov/Holidays. Holiday-related content from the White House will be tagged #WHHoliday.