Wednesday, December 01, 2010

First Lady Chooses "Simple Gifts" As 2010 White House Holiday Theme

First Lady welcomes military families for foodie arts & crafts to kick off the holidays; Handmade decorations featuring dried fruits & vegetables, gingerbread cookies and recycled materials festoon the White House...
As the White House gets set to welcome close to 100,000 visitors during December, First Lady Michelle Obama today unveiled the elegant, elaborate, and environmentally friendly 2010 holiday decorations. Mrs. Obama chose "Simple Gifts" as her theme for the First Family's second year in the Executive Mansion, and it's meant to invoke holiday joy while simultaneously celebrating American traditions, environmental awareness, community service, and support for military families, one of the premiere issues in Mrs. Obama's portfolio as First Lady. (Above: Mrs. Obama and Executive Pastry chef Bill Yosses with a young guest enjoying a holiday cookie)

"The greatest blessings of all are the ones that don't cost a thing -- the time that we spend with our loved ones, the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, and the joy we feel from reaching out to those in need," Mrs. Obama said today.

The decorations, despite the "Simple" theme, are ornate and often whimsical, handmade by volunteers and created largely from natural or recycled materials. Mrs. Obama's own personal stamp is much in evidence: Referents to the Kitchen Garden are frequent, with the inclusion of thousands of dried fruit and vegetables in the wreaths and festoons. There's a special Military Appreciation Tree, decorated with red, white and blue ornaments, in honor of men and women in uniform. First Dog Bo is much in evidence, too, recreated in cookie form, in pipe cleaner statuary--and there's even a special, marzipan version of Bo accompanying the massive, 400-pound White House Gingerbread House created by Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses. (Above: Yosses with the house, and Bo)

*Click here for all the details on the 2010 White House Gingerbread House

The First Lady was dressed in a black and gold suit as she spoke in the East Room to Marines, Marine Reservists and their families, who were invited to be the first to view the holiday décor during the press preview event. "In the end, that spirit of kindness and generosity is really what the holiday season is all about," Mrs. Obama said.

Mrs. Obama touted the Marine's--and her--favorite holiday charity, the Toys for Tots drive. Mrs. Obama, White House staff, and the Marines have teamed for the second year in a row to run a toy drive. (Above: Mrs. Obama during her remarks, in the East Room)

"Toys for Tots is just one example of how our military families are serving our communities and Americans in need all around the country, year-round," Mrs. Obama said. “And people should look for these boxes. Go online. We urge you to help make the holidays special for every family in this country. “

The First Lady pronounced the White House "more beautiful than last year," as she thanked the 100 volunteers from 29 different states who showed up to transform the Executive Mansion into a holiday wonderland, making many of the decorations on site. (Above: Lemons and pears with gold leaf in the State Dining Room)

"They’ve been hanging the lights and transforming these rooms into breathtaking works of art," Mrs. Obama said. "It is really something special."

The volunteers will be rewarded with a special reception today, the first of about twenty that will take place at the White House before Christmas. Tomorrow, President Obama and Mrs. Obama will welcome Jewish leaders from across America for a Hanukkah reception.

Holiday crafts...
After her remarks, Mrs. Obama shed her jacket as she joined the military families and 23 excited kids in the State Dining Room for a special holiday crafts session.

With brocade curtains, a historic portrait of Abraham Lincoln and crystal chandeliers, the State Dining Room is not usually the place where messy crafts get created. But led by Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford and Yosses, Mrs. Obama and the kids got to work decorating gingerbread cookie ornaments and making glittery magazine trees, as well as creating holiday cards with vegetable prints. Pastry assistant Susie Morrison was also on hand. (Above: Mrs. Obama looks at one of the kids' crafts)

The kids were giddy, with one offering Mrs. Obama a bite of her just-made ornament.

"Thaaaank you," said Mrs. Obama, after asking the little girl if she was sure she wanted to give up her cookie. "It's gooooood."

The White House Ginger Bread House, featuring "Bozilla"
This year, Yosses went all out with the White House Gingerbread House, an annual tradition for decades. Just like last year, it is on display in the State Dining Room. The white-chocolate covered extravaganza was made with thirty pounds of honey from the White House beehive, and there's a marzipan beehive included, too, complete with tiny bees.

There's also a marzipan Kitchen Garden, which features hoops on top of it. The White House installs "hoop houses," protective coverings, over the real Kitchen Garden, in order to have a 4-season garden. And First Dog Bo is front and center: He's oversized, and sitting in front of the house.

It's "Bozilla," joked Yosses. Mrs. Obama laughingly dubbed the large Bo "shocking" during her remarks.

Bo's huge size is to "to illustrate his importance to the family, and emphasize that a family lives in the house," Yosses said.

The Gingerbread House also features working electric lights, and two "shadow box" cut outs--one for the State Dining Room, and one for the East Room.

Simple Gifts by the numbers...
The White House decor includes a festive color palette that was chosen for each different White House room, with decorations made from simple materials such as wood, paper, leaves, fruits and vegetables, wire, fabric, and applesauce. In the Booksellers area, there is a huge pipe cleaner statue of Bo, made by hand with 40,000 pipe cleaners (above).

The Bo statue is actually wearing a necklace that features a picture of himself. The statue is across from a tree decorated with gingerbread cookie ornaments, made by kids from military families.

The Official White House Christmas Tree that adorns the Blue Room is a Douglas Fir, and is 18.5 ft tall, and almost 13 ft wide. Grown by the Botek family of Crystal Spring Tree Farm in Pennsylvania, the tree was delivered to Mrs. Obama last Friday.

19 other Christmas trees are in the White House along the visitors tour route, with two live 14-foot-tall Christmas trees standing guard at the North Portico, and two in front of the outdoor entrance to the Oval Office. (Above: The Blue Room tree)

There are 1,000 handmade oak leaf roses in the East Wing visitors' entrance, made from real leaves from the homes and neighborhoods of the volunteers.

00 pomegranates, 400 yellow pear gourds, 450 artichokes, 350 purple dipper gourds, 350 green dipper gourds, 400 green pear gourds, and 400 orange pear gourds were used to make the wreaths in the East Colonnade.

In the green room, 75 pounds of recycled newspaper were used to make the decorations, which feature six trees made of magazines. (Above: A detail of one of the wreaths, made with gourds)

Mrs. Obama's decorating theme in 2009 was "Reflect, Rejoice, Renew."

Related: A transcript and video of Mrs. Obama's remarks is here. A video of the volunteers in action decorating the White House is here. The recipe for White House Holiday Shrimp Cocktail is here. The recipe for White House Gingerbread Cookies is here.

*Top photo by Lawrence Jackson/White House; others by Helena Bottemiller for; with additional reporting. First Gingerbread House photo by AP.