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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
December 3, 2008

Press Availability by Mrs. Bush at the White House Holiday Press Preview
East Room

photos  Photos

10:25 A.M. EST

MRS. BUSH: Good morning, everybody. Happy holidays. Well, this is our last year here. This is the eighth time I've given this tour of the holiday decorations, and I think this year we have a very appropriate theme. It's "A Red, White and Blue Holiday," which I think is perfect for our last year -- a patriotic holiday, a way to celebrate our great country, and also an election year, so another good reason to have bunting as part of the decorations, which you'll see in just a minute.

Mrs. Laura Bush is joined by White House Executive Chef Cris Comerford, and Bill Yosses, White House Pastry Chef, during the 2008 White House Holiday Press Preview Wednesday, Dec. 3., 2008, in the East Room. Said Mrs. Bush, "This is a special holiday for us. our final in the White House. Thank you to the American people for their friendship, prayers, and support. The President and I wish you and your families a very happy holiday."  White House photo by Shealah Craighead One of the only themes that Americans have suggested to me is a patriotic holiday. I've gotten letters from people since really right after September 11th that suggested we have a red, white and blue Christmas." So that's what we have this year, and I think you'll see that it's really perfect. It gave us a chance to reuse a lot of red ornaments, because we had a lot of those, of course. We brought back some other decorations from Christmas past, just like everyone does; goes to their attic and comes up with their old decorations.

And so in the Cross Hall downstairs we have the presidential homes that were part of the 2001 "Home for the Holidays" Christmas. We have on the President's tree in the Oval Office, which some of you who've been in there have already seen, we have the ornaments from last year's Blue Room Christmas Tree from the national parks, because George and I both, as all of you know, love the outdoors and love our national parks.

We have LED lights on the Christmas trees, which are very low-energy use, and I want to encourage people to, when their old lights wear out, to think about using LED Christmas lights for energy savings.

The big Blue Room Christmas Tree is decorated with ornaments from congressional districts from all 50 states and some of the territories. We asked all of our congressmen and senators to designate an artist from their home state, or their district, and so you can see them. Our youngest artist is an eight-year-old girl from Virginia who put the cardinal, the state flower of Virginia, on her ornament. And our oldest artist is a 90-year-old man from New York who painted Teddy Roosevelt on his ornament.

So I think you'll get to see there's -- every state is represented, and you can really see the beautiful landscapes of every district, and all the wildlife. We even have a jackalope from Texas.

So this gives me also the opportunity to thank all the people who make this possible; to thank especially Nancy Clarke and all the florists who I've worked with for eight years, and it's just been a real pleasure. Thank you very, very much, Nancy.

Mrs. Laura Bush stands in the East Room of the White House Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2008, as she reveals the 2008 White House holiday theme, "A Red, White and Blue Christmas" to approximately 120 members of the media during the White House Holiday Press Preview.  White House photo by Chris Greenberg MS. CLARKE: It's been our pleasure, too.

MRS. BUSH: Thanks a lot.

It's so terrific to have a staff that no matter what idea you come up with, Nancy always says, great, and goes right to work. And as you can tell, these are not easy things to assemble or to put together or to build, and they always look great. I hope everyone saw the nutcrackers, the Uncle Sam nutcrackers that meet you on the east side. Those characters, those nutcrackers, have made an appearance in several of our Christmases, and this year they're dressed as Uncle Sam holding an American flag.

I just want to tell you one other thing about Nancy Clarke. When we first came here in -- this is going to make me weep and make her weep, too -- when we first came here in January 1989 with President Bush, George's dad, the little girls, little Barbara and Jenna, who were seven, watched the parade from this inaugural parade stand that you see being built out in front of the White House now. And then they watched, they said, to 102 different groups that walked through.

And then they came inside, and Nancy was the one that met them at the door, and she took them to the flower shop and let them make a little bouquet for their rooms. And they'll never forget it, and it was such a really sweet way for little seven-year-olds to be introduced to the White House. So thank you so much for that, Nancy. I appreciate it very much. We've had a great time working together for all these years.

MS. CLARKE: Yes, we have.

MRS. BUSH: Then, of course -- and you're going to get to sample this in just a minute -- our chefs, Cris Comerford and Bill Yosses. Do you all want to move over here with me? Like for every single event at the White House, Cris has developed a really wonderful menu that represents different parts of the United States, with traditional foods like ham and other things that people like to have at Christmas, and as well as lobster, a lobster salad that represents Maine, one of our favorite states to summer in with our parents. We have cheeses from -- both from Texas. What kind of cheeses?

MS. COMERFORD: We have some good brie cheeses from Texas. We also have some southwest Leicester cheese, and also we just did some smoked gouda for us, so -- there's this homestead farm that has been really supplying us with good artisanal cheeses.

MRS. BUSH: Great. I was waiting for her to say "artisanal" because I have a little bit of trouble with that. Thank you very much, Cris.

Mrs. Laura Bush walks from the White House Cross Hall into the East Room, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2008, to begin the Christmas press preview of the White House decorations and preparations.  White House photo by Chris Greenberg So you're going to get to see what the menu is, and I think you'll think it's delicious, like all of our guests will. So you can imagine how Cris works through all these days. There are going to be party after party, starting -- two, there were two parties yesterday -- but starting tonight with the first reception of our friends who come in from around the country. And so she'll be busy cooking with other cooks and chefs who come in especially for the holidays every day to make sure everybody that comes here, every guest, gets an opportunity to really experience what a wonderful White House party is, especially one of the holiday parties.

Then Bill Yosses, our Pastry Chef, is the creator of our unbelievable gingerbread house this year. I hope you've seen it. It's white chocolate, it's very detailed, it really is architecturally correct. The beautiful capitals on the columns are carved out of white chocolate, and I think you can see that. And because we have the "Red, White and Blue" theme, we have the fife and drum corps marching across the lawn of the gingerbread house this year. So thank you very much, Bill.

Bill also, of course -- he's already been busy and will be busy for the rest of the holidays making cookies for all the parties and all the other great holiday desserts that we'll all be enjoying, and I hope you'll get to see a little -- have a little taste of those in just a minute for the reception, as well.

So I want to thank everyone. We had over 90 volunteers that came in from around the country to help put up all these great decorations. We have 27, I think -- but I might be wrong, maybe it's 29 -- trees across, from the East Wing all the way through the Residence to the West Wing. They're all from North Carolina this year, and obviously the big centerpiece of the decorations is the Blue Room Christmas Tree, covered with those ornaments from all 50 states and a lot of our congressional districts. I think we ended up with almost 370 ornaments from congressional districts around the country.

So thank you very much, Cris. I appreciate it very much. Thank you, Bill.

MR. YOSSES: Thank you very much, Mrs. Bush.

MRS. BUSH: Thanks to everyone who's worked so hard to make this such a beautiful "Red, White and Blue Holiday."

You all have any questions before we move on?

Q Is there something about the decorations you're going to miss most?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I'll miss working with everybody. It's been so much fun over the years to work, especially with Nancy, to develop these themes, to figure out how we'll express these themes. And so it'll be the people, of course, that we'll miss the most.

A lot of the butlers that will be working at all these parties are men that we've known since we came here in 1989. Nancy, as I said, met us at the door when we came in 1989. So we have a really almost lifelong friendship with a lot of the people that work here, and I want to thank all of them, every one of them, for their friendship, for the way they take care of the President and this beautiful house.

And I also was able to assure Mrs. Obama that they'll be waiting there to welcome them and that they'll welcome them and take care of them just like they've taken care of us and all the Presidents that have come before us. So they're the people I'll miss.

Q Where are you going to celebrate Christmas?

MRS. BUSH: Pardon me?

Q Where you are going to celebrate Christmas -- where?

MRS. BUSH: We'll celebrate Christmas at Camp David. So we'll leave for Camp David right before Christmas. We have all members of our family coming. My mother and the girls and Jenna's new husband and all of George's brothers and their children and sister and President Bush and Barbara, we hope, and I think -- for any of you who are interested, Mrs. Bush got home last night from the hospital and she seems to be doing very well, so we're very hopeful she'll be able to join us, as well, for Christmas.

Q How many?

MRS. BUSH: All -- the whole family together. And this will be our -- let's see -- 12th year at Camp David for Christmas, because we went for the four years George's dad was President. So I'm sure we've got the record -- (laughter) -- that will never be broken. (Laughter.)

Q Is there any specific legacy you leave as First Lady in the White House, and I just wonder how that -- how the First Ladies will share --

MRS. BUSH: Well, we've worked on a lot of the rooms here. It's such a privilege to be able to live here and to be able to be the steward for all this -- the fabulous things that are in this house -- the beautiful art, the historical furniture, the beautiful building itself.

And so some of the rooms I've worked on are the Library downstairs, which I loved doing, since I'm a retired librarian; the Vermeil Room downstairs; the Green Room, which is also a really great room to decorate for the holidays. And the Green Room, if you've seen it, has silver eagles on the mantel and looks so pretty.

But it's been an unbelievable privilege, and I've loved having the chance to learn about everyone who's lived here before, through their effects, through the ways they decorated the house, or the furniture they left, or the stories we know about what happened in different rooms -- this room, for instance, the East Room, which as many of you probably know when the very first family lived here, the Adams family -- John and Abigail Adams were the first ones to live here, even though George Washington picked the site and picked the architect, but the house wasn't finished until the second President. But this room still wasn't finished, and Abigail Adams hung her laundry in this room.

This East Room has a great history, both the site of weddings and funerals; every President who's died in office has laid in this room in state, except for one; the -- lots of parties and dances. We had a reception here for Jenna and Henry for their wedding, which will be one of our happy memories from this room. This is also obviously the room of bill signings and balls, and we'll have a ball here on Monday night for the Congress, the Congressional Ball. So it's really a great thrill to have the chance to live here and be here with all of these great items.

Q Do you think we'll ever be able to return to the tradition of Christmases before 2011 [sic], when the public used to be able to kind of file through --

MRS. BUSH: Well, the public still does come. We still do have public tours. We're the only house of a world leader that I know of that has public tours. The public just needs to make their reservations before, when you used to -- they just lined up at the door.

But I certainly hope so. I hope that we -- and pray -- that we will, as time goes on, not live in a time of terrorism where we have security concerns. And we all hope that, and that's certainly something we all pray for at the holidays.

Q Ma'am, when we're all gone and you're walking through the house at night, what's the one thing that stands out most to you? What do you like to see every day?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I love to see the Red Room. It's something that I love to look at. It's traditionally been known as the First Ladies Parlor. It's such a dramatic room.

But I just like to think about the people who lived here before me. When both George and me walk through all of these rooms, these rooms downstairs as well as our Residence, we're very aware of all the Presidents before us, and we're aware of the challenges that they faced when they lived here, and the challenges and tragedies in many cases that their families faced while they were here.

Certainly, Lincoln is the President that we think of the most often, and he lived here in what I think anyone would agree was the most challenging time, when we were a country at war with itself. And while he lived here, he also lost his son. Willie died upstairs in the room that had the big Lincoln bed in it at the time, which is a room that's above the Dining Room at the other end of the hall.

So one thing that we take from the life stories of all the people that lived here before us -- certainly I look at the lives of the women who lived here before us -- is encouragement, really, about our country, and the way we've been able to face the challenges that we've been faced with before, and the assurance from the way that we faced those that we'll be able to face any challenges that come again.

There's something great about the "Big Ship" America and the security and the stability of that "Big Ship" through every kind of challenge. And so that -- I think that's really what I think about when I walk through these halls, and that is how fortunate we are, all of us, every citizen of our country, to have all the people who went before us who left us all the things they left us. They left us a history of laws and a Constitution that even though we didn't live it in a perfect way really is perfect.

Q Mrs. Bush, what are you going to present to your husband for Christmas? I understand this is a surprise, but maybe you could tell us one of them. (Laughter.)

MRS. BUSH: This year we're going to be very, very careful at Christmas. I suspect that a lot of other American families will be the same. We're going to try to be with each other, to have what really, really matters at the holidays, which is your family and friends around you, to be thankful for our blessings, both the blessings that we have because we're Americans and the blessings that we have because of our family and how close we are. So that's really what it's going to be.

But I also -- and I'm not making an announcement here, but we will be moving to Dallas in January, and there might be a new house coming along. So I think that's where we'll spend our Christmas money -- (laughter) -- right at the real estate time.

Yes, sir -- yes, ma'am.

Q Mrs. Bush, Christmas is about the spirit of peace. After eight years in the White House, are you disappointed that you're going to leave with not much peace and more turmoil in the world?

MRS. BUSH: Well, sure, of course, absolutely. But I also feel encouraged. I'm very encouraged about the people of Iraq, and I think they are going to be able to build a thriving democracy -- a thriving economy and democracy that people -- that they are going to be very, very proud of, and that they would not have had the chance to build if Saddam Hussein were still there.

I'm proud of the people of Afghanistan. When we look and we hear these isolated incidences like the girls who were disfigured with acid a couple of weeks ago as they were walking to school, we feel discouraged about it, but I know that the people of Afghanistan want to build a country where they're not afraid. And I know that the women of Afghanistan want to be able to contribute to their society and be a part of it.

And so I actually feel very encouraged about both of those countries. And I think that one of the really great legacies of my husband is that he's liberated 50 million people -- 25 million in Afghanistan and 25 million in Iraq. And I'm proud of that.

Who hadn't asked a question? Did you ask one before? No.

Q No, I didn't.

MRS. BUSH: Okay.

Q This is your last Christmas season, after so many years in the White House. I was just wondering how you feel about it. Are you a little bit sad?

MRS. BUSH: That's right, I mean, it's mixed emotions. I'm sad to leave all the people that I've liked so much and that I've had a chance to build a friendship with over the years that I've been here. I'm sad to leave this beautiful house. But on the other hand, in the United States, you know when you're elected President you get four years, or eight if you're reelected. And when the end of the eight years come, you know it's time to move on. And so I think there's a certain -- not just acceptance, but also looking forward to another life, the afterlife, as I've been calling it -- (laughter) -- when we can live a much more normal like in our own home. And so I'm looking forward to that, as well.

Q Kind of piggybacking off of that, what do you imagine your Christmas will be like next year? You think you might hang a couple of ornaments, or still hosting parties after all these years?

MRS. BUSH: Yes, I think we will be. I mean, obviously it won't be quite as elaborate. (Laughter.) I might be doing the cooking myself. But, yes, I look forward to that, and having, I hope, Jenna and Henry and Barbara with us at those holidays. They live on the East Coast, and we're going to be moving away from where they are. It's been nice to have them up here so close for these last few months that we've lived here. But hopefully we can lure them to Texas for the holidays.

Q Being First Lady from 2001 through 2009, can you give us some of your more memorable moments over the past eight years? And also, if you could, when Mrs. Obama came to visit you, can you share with us some advice you gave her for the incoming First Family?

MRS. BUSH: Well, there was something actually very nostalgic about having Mrs. Obama come the first time she came, because I remembered so well taking the tour of the White House with Mrs. Clinton and what -- Senator Clinton, rather -- but what she said to me as we toured the White House, and then what that reminded me to tell Michelle Obama as we toured.

And there's a window upstairs in the First Lady's dressing room that I also use as an office -- I have a desk in there. And when I toured with Mrs. Clinton she said, "Look out this window and you can see the Rose Garden and you can look right over and see the Oval Office." And she said, "Your mother-in-law told me when she gave me the tour to be sure and look out this window, that she liked to look out over there and see what George was doing," -- meaning President George H.W. Bush. And so I told that to Mrs. Obama, to look out that window and be able to look over at the Oval Office, or the Rose Garden if there's an event in the Rose Garden. And then I told her she could tell that to the next person that followed her.

So I think there's a great tradition of transition in the United States. And we certainly saw it when President Bush, George's dad, moved out of the White House, never suspecting then that we'd ever even come back to the White House, much less live here for eight years. So there's kind of a wonderful tradition of welcoming the next family in and giving that tour and showing the next family what it's going to be like.

And so we've had it obviously from both sides -- having that tour ourselves, and then being able to give it to next President. And George brought President-Elect Obama upstairs after Michelle and I toured upstairs, so he could show him the little girls' rooms. He also showed him his closet and his bathroom, just like I showed her my closet and my bathroom. And then they rushed upstairs to look at the gym. (Laughter.)

So I think there's certain things that the men wanted to look at, and other things that the ladies wanted to look at.

Yes, Ken.

Q Thank you, Mrs. Bush. Do you think the nation has gotten to really know and understand your husband? Or is there a great gap between the man you know and understand and the man that the people think they know and understand?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I think there's a great gap. You might think that, too, since you knew him before. Obviously -- that's what happens in politics. It's something we're very, very aware of. We knew in 1992 that President Bush was being characterized in a way that he wasn't -- our father. And I think that's just what happens in politics. And it's a shame, but that's just the nature of, I think, a very, very spirited political race.

Anything else? Happy holidays, everybody. I want to invite you to the reception and -- oh, I forgot. The artists are even standing here. I didn't even see you all. (Laughter.)

Hi, Tim. Good to see you. Thanks so much. How are you? Good to see you. Thank you very much for your beautiful work. Thanks a lot. It's so fabulous.

These are -- I'm sorry, I didn't even look to my left. (Laughter.) Obviously you can tell I forgot to read the briefing paper.

This is our Christmas card. This is Tim Lawson, the artist. He's a beautiful landscape artist. And so I thought this beautiful view from the Truman Balcony would be a wonderful landscape for him to paint for our last Christmas card here.

He also happens to be David McCullough's son-in-law. And I didn't think of this when I asked him to do the -- this view of the White House, but obviously David McCullough, his father-in-law, has written about Truman. So he did it from the Truman Balcony, which he said he liked a lot.

Then this is the Christmas brochure -- you all will be getting a picture of it. Our artist for it is a children's book illustrator. He's done a number of children's books -- isn't that right? What's one of your books? "Happy Birthday, America"?

Q "Happy Birthday, America."

MRS. BUSH: That's right -- is one of them. And it looks great.

And this is the Christmas invitation that maybe some of you have already seen, and that looks so beautiful. Thank you very much. It's really lovely.

And then the Hanukkah invitation at the end, which one of our calligraphers did. And that is a drawing of the menorah that we're going to use this year for the Hanukkah party. And it is the menorah that David Ben-Gurion gave to President Truman when Israel became a state in 1948. It was a gift to the American people.

So thank you, artists. Thank you all very, very much.

And I hope you all will have a chance to talk to all of them. You can see how beautiful their work is.

Thank you very much, everyone. Okay, everyone, thanks a lot. Happy holidays. Have fun. Thanks, everybody.

Q Feliz Navidad.

MRS. BUSH: Feliz Navidad. (Laughter.)

END 10:50 A.M. EST

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