For The Holidays, The Obamas Open Up The White House One Last Time

Dec 3, 2016
Originally published on December 4, 2016 10:43 am

Four days. 92 volunteers. And 150 pounds of gingerbread.

That's just part of what goes into decorating for the White House for Christmas.

Volunteers went to work the day after Thanksgiving, stringing thousands of bow ribbons and crystal ornaments throughout the mansion. Military families got a sneak peak at the decorations this week.

"As we celebrate my family's last holiday season in the White House, I'm thinking back to when we first came here to Washington and we promised to open up this house to as many people from as many backgrounds as possible," said First Lady Michelle Obama. "We truly wanted to make the White House the 'People's House,' particularly during the holiday seasons."

"This is something I've always thought about doing," said Diane Wright, who traveled from Watertown, Connecticut to join the decorating party. "I do my mom's tree for her, so it was more or less a tribute to my mother."

Some of the volunteers are expert crafters. Others said they merely follow directions well.

"Somebody has to be on the ladder. Somebody has to be hanging. Somebody has to be holding something," said self-described "worker bee" Julie Byrne. "You're always a member of something bigger."

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Four days, 92 volunteers and 150 pounds of gingerbread. That's just part of what goes into decorating the White House for Christmas. This week, first lady Michelle Obama kicked off a busy month of holiday celebrations.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHELLE OBAMA: I want to give a huge thank you to all of the volunteers.

(SOUNDBITE OF "HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS" SONG)

JULIE BYRNE: My name is Julie Byrne, and I'm from Washington, D.C. When I heard you could be a volunteer, I wrote a letter, and I was one of the worker bees.

BEVERLY JENSEN: My name is Beverly Jensen (ph). I'm from Seal Beach, Calif. I like to do crafty things at home, and I talked about that in my letter. It's just amazing. We're all pinching ourselves that we get to be here.

BYRNE: There's always a team because somebody has to be on the ladder. Somebody has to be hanging. Somebody has to be holding something. You're always a member of something bigger.

(SOUNDBITE OF "HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS" SONG)

DIANE WRIGHT: My name's Diane Wright. I'm from Watertown, Conn. I do my mom's tree for her, so it was more or less a tribute to my mother. I've been doing her tree for over 60 years now, and I did a lot of the bows for the Oval Office. The wreaths that you see outside, those have my name on them.

(SOUNDBITE OF "HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS" SONG)

ISABELLE RUBIO: My name is Isabelle Rubio (ph). I'm from Birmingham, Ala. We're in the China Room. To think about the meals that have happened, the deals that have happened over these plates is just really incredible.

(SOUNDBITE OF "SILENT NIGHT" SONG)

PATRICK CLAYTON: My name is Patrick Clayton (ph). I'm from New York City, and we put over 8,000 bows on four columns. There is a large tree made out of a garden hose. It's beautiful.

(SOUNDBITE OF "SILENT NIGHT" SONG)

STACEY OWENS: My name is Stacey Owens (ph). I'm from Lexington, Ky. I've been trying to get to the White House for years, especially since we had our first African-American president. My sister said, Stacey, this might be our last chance.

(SOUNDBITE OF "SILENT NIGHT" SONG)

PATRICIA OCHAN: My name is Patricia Ochan (ph), and I'm down from Arlington, Va. I'm a military spouse, so I know how it feels when your loved one is out serving this country and you're home by yourself for the holidays.

(SOUNDBITE OF "I'LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS" SONG)

OCHAN: We just want everybody that walks through here to look around your neighborhood. If there's any military family, go give them a hug and thank them for their service.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: As we celebrate my family's last holiday season in the White House, I'm thinking back to when we first came here to Washington. And we promised to open up this house to as many people from as many backgrounds as possible, particularly during the holiday seasons.

RUBIO: It's been an awesome, wonderful experience to be able to decorate the nation's house. It's been a dream come true.

(SOUNDBITE OF "I'LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS" SONG)

CHANG: NPR's Brakkton Booker and Scott Horsley produced our story. And Gunnery Sergeant Russell Wilson of the Marine Band is on piano.

(SOUNDBITE OF "WHITE CHRISTMAS" SONG) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.