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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Gary Walters
Gary Walters
White House Chief Usher

December 16, 2005

Gary Walters
Good morning and Merry Christmas. I am Gary Walters, the White House Chief Usher. The holiday season is a busy time here at the White House and I am pleased to take your questions.

David, from Virginia writes:
When do the staff and the First lady begin to decide on a theme for Christmas and a design for the White House Christmas card? Does the President help in deciding on the theme and help in deciding on how to decorate the Oval Office?

Gary Walters
In late winter and early spring, the staff presents numerous ideas to the First Lady and then she decides on a theme as early as late spring to permit time to carry out the theme. You would need to ask the First Lady that question!

Tyler, from El Dorado Springs, MO writes:
Merry Christmas In the white house, are the president and first lady's family ornaments on a tree on the public floor or are they on a tree in the Residence? Also, who gets to pick out the theme for the various trees? Thank you.

Gary Walters
Merry Christmas to you also. The First Family has a tree in their private quarters, in the Yellow Oval Room, on which they place their personal ornaments. The First Lady picks out the theme for the holiday season.

Haley, from Richmond, Kentucky writes:
When the President and First Lady does the Holiday dercotions do they get to choose what is the theme? Also, can that theme be used agin from like another President?

Gary Walters
Yes, Mrs. Bush chooses the theme each year, as have previous first ladies.

Barb, from Lima, Ohio writes:
I just wanted to say how beautiful the White House looks at Christmas time every year. Also Christmas in Washington and the HGTV special showing the White House at Christmas are always my favorites. My question is since you have been at the White House and are close to the first family do you get to spend down time with them in the private residence maybe eat dinner with them? Have you ever attended a state dinner, or been able to visit Camp David ? Thanks PS you always pick the most beautiful tree for the Blue Room.

Gary Walters
Thank you. Following the closing of the White House after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York and the anthrax incidents, Mrs. Bush wanted a method to show the wonderful decorations to the American people and decided on the HGTV group. They continue to do a wonderful job.

No, the First Family needs to spend time with family and friends to relax.

Yes, I have been invited to a number of dinners and have been invited to Camp David both as a guest and for official duties.

Matt, from Detroit, MI writes:
Mr. Walters, What exactly is the White House Chief Usher and were you appointed to the position? What training or experience is needed for your job?

Gary Walters
The Chief Usher is like a general manager of a hotel. My staff consists of 93 people from chefs to butlers to carpenters and plumbers, electricians, curators and calligraphers, just to name a few jobs. The Chief Usher heads the staff that is responsible to the President to maintain the home of the president, provide for the care and maintenance of the historic White House and its grounds, and also insure the proper and correct details of official and ceremonial events of the presidency.

Rob, from Tucson writes:
Is there a link on the White House web site that shows the comprehensive schedules of parties, visits, and special events? Well done.

Gary Walters
Not to my knowledge. The President and First Lady's schedulers provide their schedules.

Matthew, from Bethesda MD writes:
Hi Gary, I see that you are a graduate of The University of Maryland. Are you a big basketball fan? Are you able to watch any of the games? All I want for Christmas is for the Terps to win on Jan 11 at Duke. GO TERPS -matt

Gary Walters
Yes - GO TERPS - Fear the Turtle! I was at the Terps ACC Tourney victory a few years ago. I go to the games as a long-time season ticket holder. For Christmas, I want two wins over Duke - like last year!

Susan, from Seattle, WA writes:
What are some of the interesting ways that technology has changed the management of the White House residence?

Gary Walters
Computer technology has made everything faster. If I could do away with one machine it would be the FAX, because everything is put off until the last minute.

Jim, from Baton Rouge, LA. writes:
How can we purchase this year's official White House Christmas ornament? Thanks

Gary Walters
You can purchase them from the White House Historical Association at (800) 555-2451 or on their website at P.S. This is not a commercial - they are just great ornaments and the proceeds go towards the education of the American people about the White House.

Robert, from Brooklyn, NY writes:
Does the White House have a Christmas Tree or a Holiday Tree?

Gary Walters
As the home of the President, we have a Christmas tree in the White House Blue Room.

Daniel, from Great Barrington, MA writes:
How does the White House celebrate Hanukkah? Thank you.

Gary Walters
The President and Mrs. Bush honor Hanukkah with a ceremony and a reception.

Kevin, from Atlanta, GA writes:
Does Santa visit the White House? Thanks

Gary Walters
Certainly, the spirit of Christmas is with us all month.

Mike, from Winnipeg, Canada writes:
Your expertise in managing the White House is quite apparent. Congratulations in making the WHITE HOUSE the most awesome residenceDo you ever find yourself alone in that wonderful house, just wandering through those magnificent rooms??

Gary Walters
Yes, from time to time I do find myself alone in the historic President.s Mansion as it was originally known. It is quite awe-inspiring and I have been unbelievably fortunate to have been here for over 35 years and have been lucky to see an incredible amount of history. If only the walls would talk, what stories they would tell.

georgia, from Ft. Myers, Fl 33903 writes:
Did Barney do an interactive video this year? How can I access?-Have new computor could not do last year?Thank you

Gary Walters
Yes, BarneyCam IV, "A Very Beazley Christmas" is available at

Kim, from Kentucky writes:
Hi Mr. Walters, I was able to watch a program on HGTV about the White House transformation at the holidays. I must say that I was amazed at the effort and results in such a quick turn-around time The White House looked awesome and I have never seen the method of decorating with fresh flowers--the First Lady really did a superb job of making the theme of this holiday so fresh and interesting. I would just like to wish both the First Family and staff of the White House the very best holiday season, full of laughter, family gatherings, and...relaxation

Gary Walters
Thank you. We are very pleased that so many people can view the decorations.

Todd, from Houston writes:
During the Holiday Season, does the White House open its doors for other religious celebrations or just Christmas?

Gary Walters
The President and Mrs. Bush respect other religions and honor them throughout the year.

Joey, from Richmond writes:
How long do the decorations take to put up?

Gary Walters
Depending on the complexity, it takes about three days at the White House just after Thanksgiving, but months of preparation.

Peter, from Cincinnati writes:
I would like to know what time the Yule Log will be lit? I am going to lit a candle for the President at that same time.

Gary Walters
The Yule Log is on the Ellipse south of the White House and is part of the Pageant of Peace activities. The President lit the National Christmas tree this year on December 1. Photos and video from that event may be found on the White House website: /news/releases/2005/12/20051201-7.html

Mark, from Des Plaines Illinois writes:
Mr. Walters, Around my house we store our holiday decorations in our basement. Where are the White House decorations stored?

Gary Walters
We store them with other items in a warehouse for future use.

Cliff, from Brimfield, Ohio writes:
Chief Walters: How many years have you been in the White House and when did you become the Chief Usher? Thank You

Gary Walters
I have been at the White House since August 1970 and appointed Chief Usher by President Reagan in 1986.

Juanita, from Goshen, Indiana writes:
Thank you for doing a tough job well. Mr. Walters, do you handle the visitors to the Oval Office, or only those coming to the residence as such? How many visitors a week do you care for? How is the staff holding up under the additional stress of these challenging days? Again, I thank you. Americans owe you and the whole White House staff a big debt.

Gary Walters
No, the President's office staff takes care of his Oval Office guests and appointments. The Residence staff has been through many holiday seasons and they learn to hold up well. Thank you!

Wayne, from Plymouth, MN writes:
Hi Mr. Walters How large is the staff that decorates the White House during this Christmas Season? How similar are the activities with the parties that the President and First Lady will host compared to the State Dinners that are held at the White House? What is your active roll in each of these events? Thank you for your time and Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Gary Walters
We used the entire staff of the Executive Residence at the White House, members of the National Park Service staff and about 60 volunteers. Most of the Christmas activities are receptions and not dinners. My role is to make it all work!

Donna, from Bel Air, Maryland writes:
I look forward every year to the HGTV Whitehouse Christmas special. The staff and volunteers do such a wonderful job decorating the White House for the Christmas season and you also. I was curious as to why we do not have a nativity scene at the White House since we allow a Hannaka Menora (hope I spelled it correctly)?

Could you comment on this please?

Gary Walters
There is a nativity scene in the East Room. It is an historic 18th century Italian Crésche donated to the White House over 30 years ago.

Lauren, from Biloxi, MS writes:
What is your favorite White House Christmas memory andor food? Thanks for everything you do

Gary Walters
My favorite memories are from seeing the public come through the President's house and enjoy the decorations. As for food - I love chocolate, anything chocolate!

Lowry, from Joliet, Illinois writes:
My class of second graders and I are studying about different Christmas trees. We were wondering if you can tell us what kind of tree is the Christmas tree at the White House. Thank you

Gary Walters
This year's official White House Christmas tree is a Fraser Fir, donated by the Deal Family of Laurel Springs, North Carolina. It was selected in early November and was delivered Monday, Nov. 28, 2005, for display in the Blue Room of the White House.

Martha, from Marietta GA writes:
I entered this question first but do not see a reply. Maybe I was a little too early. Last year I viewed a wonderful documentary program on TV about the decorating of the White House for Christmas. I hope to see one again this year. Will there be a televised program of that nature and when? Thanks for a reply.

Gary Walters
Yes, Martha. The cable network, Home & Garden Television (HGTV), produced a one-hour special entitled "White House Christmas 2005" which features an interview with Mrs. Bush and an inside look at this year's White House holiday decorations. Check your local listings for channel information, but the remaining air times and dates for 2005 include Sunday, December 18, 2005 at 5 PM ET/PT, Saturday, December 24, 2005 at 8 PM ET/PT and Sunday, December 25, 2005 at 12 AM ET/PT and 10 AM ET/PT.

Gary Walters
Thank you for all the wonderful questions. For those looking for more information about White House history or the American Presidency, I recommend contacting the White House Historical Society. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!