SLIDESHOW: Holidays at the White House

12/04/2013 5:19 PM

12/05/2013 10:07 AM

If you were expecting 70,000 visitors to your home for the holidays you might do this, too: Bake a 300-pound gingerbread house, decorate 24 Christmas trees, and create life-size replicas of the family’s Portuguese water dogs.

First lady Michelle Obama unveiled the 2013 holiday decorations at the White House Wednesday, officially kicking off a season that will bring tens of thousands to the first family’s adopted home for a series of parties and tours.

“Don’t you feel special?” the first lady asked the first few hundred guests. “No one has seen these, not even the president has seen these. He hasn’t seen them yet. You guys are the first.”

Eighty-three volunteers began decorating the White House for the busy season the day after Thanksgiving.

There are dozens of wreaths and thousands of ornaments as well as handmade decorations, stained glass and enormous flower arrangements.

In the East Garden Room, there are 450 repurposed books used as decorations. In the Cross Hall, trees are adorned with ornaments representing American sites such as the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore and Golden Gate Bridge, and silhouettes of historical figures.

In the State Dining Room, nearly 300 pounds of bread dough were used to make a completely edible replica of the White House complete with its own working North Lawn fountain, chocolate dogs, and trees comprised solely of sugar. The whole thing sits atop a fireplace made of 1,200 Springerle cookies.

And, of course, there’s the annual tribute to the first dogs, Bo and his new, younger sister, Sunny, made of 1,000 yards of satin ribbon. The tails even wag.

The theme of the decorations this year is “Gather Around: Stories of the Season.” Handmade crafts and recycled ornaments were designed to tell a story in each room focusing on the stories behind classic American holiday traditions.

As in past years, Obama opened the house to military families first.

An entire room _ the Blue Room _ is dedicated to miliary families, with a massive tree trimmed with holiday greeting cards drawn by military children from bases across the country as a way to celebrate their parents’ service. The official White House Christmas tree, which stands 18-and-a-half feet high and is nearly 11 feet wide, comes from Crystal Springs Tree Farm in Lehighton, Pa. Visitors will be able to fill out Operation Honor cards to write a note of gratitude in honor of our military families, service members and veterans.

“I would ask during this time that every American find a way to honor these great Americans, not just during the holidays, but every day,” Obama said. “And let us never forget the debt that we owe these men and women and their amazing families.”

The first lady spoke to military families in the East Room before taking their kids, dressed in their holiday finest, to the State Dining Room to decorate ornaments and cookies.

There, a little girl fell down after Sunny energetically greeted her, causing a bit of a commotion. But a few minutes later, she was seen hugging the puppy.

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