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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.

Amy Allman
Amy Allman
Director, White House Visitors Office

December 20, 2007

Amy Allman
Happy Holidays and welcome to "Ask the White House!" The theme this year's holiday season is "Holiday in the National Parks," and I hope you will take time to look at all of the wonderful photos of the decorations on the White House website. My job as the Director of the Visitors Office is to welcome visitors to the White House to see the beautiful decorations, and our office works very hard to get in as many people as we can! Thank you for submitting great questions about the holidays at the White House. I'll try to answer as many as possible!

Ali, from Rochester, NY writes:
Hi Amy,Thank you for the opportunity to ask questions I have two for you today concerning how Washington prepares for the Christmas season: How does one get chosen to decorate the White House and the White House Christmas tree?

Also, how many official Christmas parties does the President and his staff attend during the month of December?

Thank you for your time and Merry Christmas

Amy Allman
The White House Christmas Tree grower is selected each year by the National Christmas Tree Association. A member of the Association has presented the official White House Christmas Tree for display in the Blue Room since 1966. This year’s tree, a magnificent 18-foot Fraser fir, was selected by White House Chief Usher Admiral Stephen Rochon and White House Florist Nancy Clarke from Mistletoe Meadows Christmas Tree Farm in North Carolina. This year, the First Lady received the tree on November 26, 2007 (look at the great photos on the White House web site), and it is traditionally placed in the Blue Room. White House electricians and staff remove the large chandelier that normally hangs in the Blue Room, and the tree extends all the way to the ceiling. Nancy Clarke coordinates with the First Lady on the decorations, and florists come from all over the country to assist. The decorating process takes about a week, and then the Visitors Office begins tours for guests from all over the world.

The President and Mrs. Bush attended 25 holiday receptions this season with over 10,000 guests. The White House Social Office, led by Social Secretary Amy Zantzinger, works with the First Lady to plan and coordinate all of the receptions. This year the White House chefs prepared 20,000 Christmas cookies and 320 gallons of Eggnog!

Josh, from Texas writes:
About how many Christmas trees are set up in the White House every year? Has there ever been a Christmas tree in the Oval Office?

Amy Allman
This year there are 33 Christmas trees on display in the White House, and they are from several states, including Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Also, the White House florists made 232 wreaths and used 862 feet of garland for decorating. We do our best in the Visitors Office to get as many people as possible to come see these grand decorations!

There is a beautiful and festive Christmas tree in the Oval Office. It is a Fraser fir decorated with gold ornaments and pine cones. Also, the tree features ornaments made by the White House Pastry Chef, Bill Yosses, that are actually cookies in the shapes of buffalo, coyote, eagles, and other animals you can find in our national parks.

Marc, from West Chester, PA writes:
Do the President and Mrs. Bush do any of their own decorating in the family quarters of the White House or at Camp David?

Amy Allman
Definitely! The President and Mrs. Bush incorporate the theme, the national parks, with their own traditional decorations. There are photos on the tour route in the East Colonnade right now of the First Family in front of their family Christmas tree in the residence.

Martin, from Sun Prairie, WI writes:
Amy Allman, I would like to know how this year's White House Christmas cards, and official invitaions are made. Does the White House have its own printing company? On the other hand, does the Bureau of Engraving and Printing produce this?

Thank you and Merry Christmas to you, Martin

Amy Allman
The First Lady's office works on the beautiful Christmas card, and this year's artwork was painted by artist David Drummond. It features a small statue by Sylvia Shaw Judson titled "Gardener" welcoming winter to the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden. As is noted on the back of the Christmas card, "The garden was dedicated in 1965 by First Lady Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson. The White House gardens and grounds were incorporated into the National Park Service in 1933."

A team at the White House designs the Christmas card with the First Lady. We don't use the Bureau of Engraving and Printing for this process - they are pretty busy!

This year the President and Mrs. Bush sent 895,000 holiday cards.

The holiday program artwork by Michael Glenn Monroe is also displayed on the White House web site, and the official reception invitations feature a painting of the North Portico entrance by artist Adrian Martinez. The holiday programs are distributed to all of the guests who will come through the White House this month.

Martin, from Sun Prairie, WI writes:
Amy Allman, I just think this years Gingerbead House is magnificant; especially since its made out of white chocolate. When was this tradition started?

Thank you, Martin

Amy Allman
The gingerbread house is a favorite of many tour guests, too! White House Pastry Chef Bill Yosses and his team used 300 pounds of white chocolate to make this year's house. There is gingerbread underneath the white chocolate to ensure the tradition of a yearly gingerbread house, and little chocolate figures of Kitty, Barney, and Miss Beazley are perched on top in a sleigh, waiting for Santa.

As far as our records indicate, the gingerbread house tradition dates back to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served as President from 1953 - 1961.

Charles, from Maryland writes:
In addition to Christmas preparations, are there any preparations for Chanukah?

Amy Allman
Yes, every year the President and Mrs. Bush host a large Hanukkah reception on the State Floor of the White House, which is coordinated by the White House Social Office. The menorah lit for this year’s reception belongs to Ruth and Judea Pearl, parents of slain Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl. All of the food and wine served are kosher, and the food is blessed by rabbis.

There is also a National Menorah on the Ellipse, and the lighting ceremony took place on Tuesday, December 4, 2007.

Nancy, from Apple Valley MN writes:
Where do you get you ideas for the Christmas Themes? Can suggestions be sent in? Thanks

Amy Allman
The theme is chosen by the First Lady, who works with her staff and the White House florist on ideas. This year's theme celebrates the national parks because, as Mrs. Bush said, "we think that our national parks are more precious than gold to the United States. They're our major and most fabulous and magnificent landscapes, from Yosemite to Denali to the Everglades. But they're also our sacred historical sites. The White House is a national park; Independence Hall; the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta -- many, many very important sites to our history are also our national parks."

You are always welcome to write a letter to the President and Mrs. Bush at the White House with any suggestions on a holiday theme.

Taylor, from mattawan MI writes:
How many christmas trees does the white house have? And who decorates them?

Amy Allman
There are 33 Christmas trees on display in the White House, and the White House florist, Nancy Clarke, works with her team to decorate all of them. Guests can see the beautiful gold ornaments in the shapes of pine cones, birds, butterflies, sea shells, and acorns.

Mary, from Austin, TX writes:
Through what date will the Chrismtas decorations be up and on display at the White House?

Amy Allman
We will have tours up to December 28th, and the decorations come down on December 29th. It will be sad to see them go, and 60,000 people on tours will have been through to enjoy the magical transformation of the White House at Christmastime.

Jason, from Oxford, UK writes:
Hello Ms Allman. I was wondering if the President and First Lady decorate the private residence of the White House with decorations from their ranch in Crawford, TX or do they use something unique from the White House? Do you also happen to know what the President wanted for Christmas this year?

Amy Allman
The President and Mrs. Bush continue the tradition of using their own decorations and ornaments combined with those that incorporate the theme of the White House decorations.

I have not heard what the President wants for Christmas this year, but I will take a guess that he has asked to continue to have a healthy, happy family.

Michael, from Powell, Tn writes:
Which President was the first to decorate the White House for Christmas?

Merry CHrist-mas

Amy Allman
Our historians say that the first documented White House decorations began with President Benjamin Harrison in the private quarters of the Yellow Oval Room during his presidency from 1889 - 1893. President John Tyler, whose portrait is on the public tour in the Blue Room, also hosted Christmas parties for young children, which continues today

Pace, from Bethesda, MD writes:
How many visitors have come to see the Christmas decorations?

Amy Allman
For the month of December, 60,000 people will come through on tours to see the Christmas decorations! To request a tour for next year, please contact your Member of Congress, and they will submit the request to the White House Visitors Office. It is a large team effort in the Visitors Office to ensure that as many people as possible are able to tour and enjoy the White House Christmas decorations.

Tara, from Darnestown, MD writes:
What do you like most about the Christmas decorations this year?

Amy Allman
That is a difficult decision, but I have to say that my favorite aspect is the White House Christmas Tree in the Blue Room. This year there are 349 ornaments displayed that were decorated by artists whose designs represent America’s national parks, memorials, seashores, historic sites and monuments. You can view all of the ornaments on the White House web site. The tree is very full, and has ornaments, gold stars, and gold strands of beads. I also enjoy how the ornaments incorporate all of America into one celebration, and the gold is significant of the elegance of the White House. Every time I go through with a tour, I notice a different ornament celebrating a historical park in America.

Amy Allman
Thank you so much for submitting questions about Christmas at the White House. It has been an honor to participate in this discussion, and I hope you will contact your Member of Congress about going on a tour of the White House if you visit our nation's capital. Have a safe, blessed, and happy holiday.