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Christmas At The White House, Where You'll Want To Hang That Snowflake Just Right
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Christmas At The White House, Where You'll Want To Hang That Snowflake Just Right

Politics

Christmas At The White House, Where You'll Want To Hang That Snowflake Just Right

Christmas At The White House, Where You'll Want To Hang That Snowflake Just Right
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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/458359947/458573154" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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  • The White House is decked out with 62 Christmas trees and more than 70,000 ornaments this year. The decorations on the East Landing include garlands made of airmail envelopes, mailboxes and iPad stations that allow visitors to send messages to military service members.
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    The White House is decked out with 62 Christmas trees and more than 70,000 ornaments this year. The decorations on the East Landing include garlands made of airmail envelopes, mailboxes and iPad stations that allow visitors to send messages to military service members.
    Emily Bogle/NPR
  • Hand-cut paper snowflakes line the ceiling of the East Colonnade. The White House is expecting over 60,000 visitors this holiday season.
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    Hand-cut paper snowflakes line the ceiling of the East Colonnade. The White House is expecting over 60,000 visitors this holiday season.
    Emily Bogle/NPR
  • A collection of 56 "snow people" stand outside the East Colonnade. The sculptures represent all 50 states and six U.S. territories.
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    A collection of 56 "snow people" stand outside the East Colonnade. The sculptures represent all 50 states and six U.S. territories.
    Emily Bogle/NPR
  • A detail of a Christmas tree in the East Room.
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    A detail of a Christmas tree in the East Room.
    Emily Bogle/NPR
  • Large sculptures of Sunny and Bo made from yarn pompoms are on display along with tennis ball topiaries in the East Garden room.
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    Large sculptures of Sunny and Bo made from yarn pompoms are on display along with tennis ball topiaries in the East Garden room.
    Emily Bogle/NPR
  • Christmas trees in the library were decorated with quotes from famous writers and scholars.
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    Christmas trees in the library were decorated with quotes from famous writers and scholars.
    Emily Bogle/NPR
  • A detail of handmade book ornaments in the White House library.
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    A detail of handmade book ornaments in the White House library.
    Emily Bogle/NPR
  • A cookie tray features the Obamas' dogs, Bo and Sunny, along with traditional holiday shapes.
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    A cookie tray features the Obamas' dogs, Bo and Sunny, along with traditional holiday shapes.
    Emily Bogle/NPR
  • Fashion designer Carolina Herrera decorated the China Room. The portrait is of first lady Grace Coolidge and her dog.
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    Fashion designer Carolina Herrera decorated the China Room. The portrait is of first lady Grace Coolidge and her dog.
    Emily Bogle/NPR

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The White House is decked out with 62 Christmas trees and more than 70,000 ornaments — ready for what will be tens of thousands of visitors in the coming weeks.

Most of the decorating is done each year by volunteers from all over the country who apply for the chance to deck the halls of America's house. Each year, hundreds apply but fewer than 100 get the chance.

Trevor Smith helped hang thousands of paper snowflakes in the East Colonnade. He runs a landscaping and floral design firm in Boston with his fiancee, Christina Donovan, who was also selected as a volunteer. i

Trevor Smith helped hang thousands of paper snowflakes in the East Colonnade. He runs a landscaping and floral design firm in Boston with his fiancee, Christina Donovan, who was also selected as a volunteer. Emily Bogle/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Emily Bogle/NPR
Trevor Smith helped hang thousands of paper snowflakes in the East Colonnade. He runs a landscaping and floral design firm in Boston with his fiancee, Christina Donovan, who was also selected as a volunteer.

Trevor Smith helped hang thousands of paper snowflakes in the East Colonnade. He runs a landscaping and floral design firm in Boston with his fiancee, Christina Donovan, who was also selected as a volunteer.

Emily Bogle/NPR

Christina Donovan and her fiance Trevor Smith both submitted applications this year. The couple runs a design company that includes holiday decorating.

They said they had agreed that "we would support each other if only person went, the other person would go to museums all day."

And at first, it looked like that could happen. She says her fiance got his email confirmation from the White House first.

"And I was waiting. And I was waiting," she said. "And I was, you know, very happy and proud for him."

Twenty minutes later, the suspense was over. Donovan and Smith helped decorate the Blue Room including the official White House Christmas tree. And, Smith said, the East Colonnade where they hung a whole lot of paper snowflakes.

A White House Holiday

  • By The Numbers

    62 trees

    70,000 ornaments

    500 pounds of gingerbread house

    18-foot tall official White House Christmas Tree

    10 percent of the design used new materials; 90 percent comes from ornaments and decorations already part of the White House inventory

    8,000 hand-cut paper snowflakes hang from the East Colonnade ceiling

    55,000 feet of yarn to create larger-than-life replicas of presidential dogs Bo and Sunny, fashioned into 7,000 pom-poms

"It was long work. It was tedious work, anchoring all 8,000 snowflakes," he said. "But it was absolutely wonderful and ... when it was all done just the impact of the entire hall was just breathtaking I think."

Fact check: It is breathtaking.

Donovan and Smith said they were "truly honored" to have the opportunity to help decorate the White House. And even though they didn't get to meet the first lady, they said they were able to meet presidential dogs Bo and Sunny.

Andrea Marks from Spotsylvania, Va., who helped decorate the Red Room, said "This is one that I will never forget."

"It's not like walking through and doing the tour," she said. "It's being a part of it and seeing how it comes together. And I have learned so much decorating skills now. So now I know how to decorate. I had to come to the White House to learn how to decorate."

Marks can be forgiven for not knowing how to decorate when she arrived. She spent a career in a field where tying bows and straightening garland isn't required — as a 30-year combat veteran of the U.S. Army.

Andrea Marks is a retired command sergeant major, the second highest enlisted rank in the Army. She served just over 30 years in the Army. i

Andrea Marks is a retired command sergeant major, the second highest enlisted rank in the Army. She served just over 30 years in the Army. Emily Bogle/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Emily Bogle/NPR
Andrea Marks is a retired command sergeant major, the second highest enlisted rank in the Army. She served just over 30 years in the Army.

Andrea Marks is a retired command sergeant major, the second highest enlisted rank in the Army. She served just over 30 years in the Army.

Emily Bogle/NPR

She grew up in Jamaica and England and came to the U.S. when she was 17. Back then, she said, "I was a teenager in a foreign land looking for what to do next in life." After speaking with a young woman who said she was going to join the Army, Marks said she asked her "What do they do in the Army?"

"She said, 'girl you get to travel, wear a uniform and meet people.' I said, 'How you sign up?' Thirty years and 11 days later, I retired. That's my story," Marks said.

Marks retired as a command sergeant major, the second-highest enlisted rank in the Army. "So we were in Iraq, Afghanistan, Djibouti ... Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan — yeah, we were everywhere."

And now the White House.

For Cheryl Forbes, an elementary school vice principal from New York City, there was a moment when the experience of decorating the White House got very real, and exciting.

"I made ornaments for the Oval Office," she said. "The garland for the tree we made in the Oval Office. And I was just like astounded."

It was a blessing she said. An experience she will never forget.

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