Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=71193
Story Retrieval Date: 5/25/2013 3:31:06 PM CST
WASHINGTON – Santa’s appearance at the end of a Thanksgiving parade is the official holiday season kick-off for many Americans. Christmas shopping before Halloween might seem over-eager. But what if preparation began in March? At the White House, holiday decorating is an eight-month endeavor.
And, even so, first lady Laura Bush’s staff was putting the last golden bow in place Thursday morning just in time for the annual holiday decoration preview for the White House press corps. This Christmas season, 60,000 visitors will tour the holiday decorations.
What’s this year’s holiday theme?
The White House went with a Holiday in the National Parks. It ties in with the president’s Centennial Challenge -- the National Park Service turns 100 in 2016 -- for increased funding for the national parks.
What are some of the past themes?
Past themes in the Bush administration include Home for the Holidays, A Season of Stories, influenced by the first lady’s librarian past, and All Things Bright and Beautiful. President Clinton's themes were a bit more traditional, including Santa's Workshop, Winter Wonderland and 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.
Who chooses the theme?
The first lady has the final word on the holiday theme - although, Bush’s staff provides her with suggestions. This year’s theme “was my idea,” Bush said. “I hike in the national parks every year, and I'm actually honorary chairman of the National Park Foundation.” And, this year, Barney and Beazley will be sworn in as national park rangers.
Who started the White House holiday theme tradition?
George Washington didn’t chop down an evergreen tree – it was Jackie Kennedy who first decorated the White House in 1961 with a nutcracker theme. Decades later, the themes have grown more elaborate and the unveiling of the decorations is now an official event.
Just how extravagant is the holiday decor at the White House?
It depends on whether you think 33 real Christmas trees from four states, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, 862 feet of garland and 232 wreaths is extravagant. And don’t forget the 20,000 Christmas cookies that will be served and the 895,000 holiday cards from the president and first lady.
What about the official Christmas tree?
The official White House Christmas Tree is an 18-foot Fraser fir from Mistletoe Meadows Christmas Tree Farm in Laurel Springs, N.C., sitting in the middle of the Blue Room.
What types of ornaments are on this special tree?
The giant fir is decorated with 347 hand-painted ornaments meant to represent the 391 national parks, memorials, seashores, historic sites and monuments across the United States. (A list of the ornaments by state is available here: www.whitehouse.gov/holiday/2007/holiday-ornaments.html).
What else is going on in the White House for the holidays?
For one thing, there will be a lot of eating. Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford has devised a menu for the holiday buffets that includes smoked salmon with potato pancakes, Maryland crab cakes, Virginia ham and Gulf shrimp cocktail. This year, the White House will serve up 1,000 pounds of shrimp, 600 pounds of asparagus and 700 pounds of crab topped off by 320 gallons of eggnog. And Bush made sure there’d be some Texas flavor -- 10,000 tamales.
What about dessert?
If you have room after the shrimp, dig in to brioche bread pudding, long-stemmed fresh strawberries and tiny chocolate mice with ganache centers. But it’s what you can't eat that’s really the icing on the cake. Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses oversaw the three-month construction of a gingerbread White House that was patterned on the original White House blueprints. The 40-inch-wide house is 300 pounds of white chocolate and gingerbread featuring the Bush family pets and animals found in America's national parks.