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White House Holiday

Kid Reporter experiences the glitz, glamour, and sugar of it all

By Madison Hartke-Weber | null null , null
Gingerbread replica of the White House. (Photo courtesty Madison Hartke-Weber.)<br />
Gingerbread replica of the White House. (Photo courtesty Madison Hartke-Weber.)

Have you ever wondered what the White House looks like at Christmas, or what treats the President and First Lady might enjoy during the holiday season?

A few weeks ago, First Lady Laura Bush invited reporters to the White House to sample what the Bushes will serve at their Christmas parties and to witness the unveiling of the White House Christmas decorations. This event is especially popular among the White House press corps because it is one of the only events at which reporters are invited to eat.

During December, nearly 20,000 people will attend White House parties hosted by the President and First Lady, where they will enjoy the same menu served to the press corps—including eggnog and holiday cookies.

Other holiday traditions are observed at the White House, including one of the most popular events, the Hanukkah party. Sally McDonough, the First Lady's press secretary, calls this "the best and hottest ticket in town because it's only one night. With the Christmas parties, you can spread them out over several days, but the Hanukkah one is a very popular and well-attended party."

Theme for the Season


Every Christmas, the First Lady picks a theme for the White House decorations and food. This year, the theme is "Holidays in the National Parks." The White House was draped in 862 feet of garland that featured gold leaves and pinecones. "They decorated the garlands this year with the gold aspen leaves that represent the Appalachian Trail, and then gold pinecones and seashells that represent how beautiful our country is from sea to shining sea," explained Mrs. Bush.

The official White House Christmas tree, which is 18 feet tall, was decorated with Christmas ornaments made by artists whose creations encompass all 347 national parks in the United States. Mrs. Bush also pointed out to reporters that the White House itself is designated a national historic site.

Along with the decorations, Mrs. Bush commissioned three artists to paint
White House holiday scenes. These images were used for the 2007 White House Christmas Card, the Holiday Reception Invitation, and the Holiday Booklet. The chosen artists really had to use their imaginations to create their artwork, because the paintings had to be completed by early fall.

David Drummond, who painted a scene of the First Lady's Garden for the Holiday Reception Invitation, said, "They sent me photographs of [the garden] in winter so I'd have a rough idea of what it looked like. For a project like this, the lead time is so long you have to basically do a lot of it with imagination. You have to get in the Christmas spirit in the summer."

Michael Monroe, a children's book illustrator who created the artwork for the Holiday Booklet, wanted to capture a scene of the front of the White House on a winter's evening. "One of the books I [illustrated] was called The Wish to Be a Christmas Tree," Monroe said. "This painting has a similar look to that. It's kind of a nighttime setting, with the glow of lights."

Mmmmm, Edible White House

One of the tastiest White House holiday traditions is the gingerbread house. It takes so long to construct the edible masterpiece that the pastry chef begins the task in early September. This unique creation is a miniature cookie replica of the White House. This year's version was coated entirely in white chocolate so, it was virtually impossible to tell that it was made out of gingerbread.

The confection house relates to this year's Christmas theme by showing animals typically found in America's national parks. The animals are made of marzipan—a sticky almond-flavor paste. Brown bears, elk, polar bears, and various birds frolic on the front lawn. Santa's sleigh is on the roof, with the Bushes' dogs, Barney and Beazley, along for the ride.

This amazing dessert will be on display throughout December. According to White House pastry chef Bill Yosses, the gingerbread house will then be donated to the White House Visitor Center.

Press Tasting

Before all of those holiday parties begin, however, members of the White House press corps try the food first. At the event I attended, the State Dining Room tables were loaded with latkes, tamales, shrimp, asparagus, and the President's personal favorite, chicken fried steak. And then, of course, there were all of the desserts, including two different types of cake, truffles, and Christmas cookies shaped like wild animals, in keeping with the National Parks theme.

After enjoying all of this delicious food, NBC White House reporter Kelly
O'Donnell said: "My favorite event in terms of something that's fun, and
pretty, and memorable, is this—where we get to celebrate the holidays in the White House. There is so much special history, and it's also beautiful. So many people who work at the White House. . .never have their moment in the sun—the people in the chef's kitchen and in the flower shops—they really get to do a dazzling display."

Veteran Hearst newspaper correspondent Helen Thomas, who has been covering the White House since the Kennedy administration in 1961, said that this, too, is her favorite event each year. I asked Thomas to divulge her favorite holiday treat at the White House. She replied, "Everything! Especially the desserts!"

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About the Author

Madison Hartke-Weber is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

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