1:35 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Hi, everybody! Look how good you guys look. You ready for some action?
MRS. OBAMA: Are you sure? I don’t know, you sound like you don’t want cookies or anything like that. (Laughter.) You think you want some cookies? You think so? Okay, well, we’re going to get to it, but first I want to welcome everyone to the White House.
I want to start by thanking Hazel for that wonderful introduction and for all of her service and hard work in helping to make this home so beautiful. I want to give a huge thank you to all of the volunteers, as Hazel mentioned, who traveled here from 33 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico to come here and put up these beautiful decorations and transform this White House into this holiday wonderland. So I’m so grateful to you all.
And as we celebrate my family’s last holiday season in the White House, I’m thinking back to when we first came here to Washington and we promised to open up this house to as many people from as many backgrounds as possible. And we truly wanted to make the White House the “People’s House,” particularly during the holiday seasons. And over the past eight years, through the seasons, we’ve worked hard to achieve that goal by welcoming almost a half million guests to this house during the season. And thanks to our amazing volunteers, we’ve adorned the White House with about a half million ornaments for our guests to enjoy, and we’ve brought smiles to the faces of all those who enjoyed the 200,000 holiday cookies prepared by our outstanding pastry chefs. And you all will get to have some more of those today. That will make 200,020 or so.
So, looking back, I am proud to say that we did our very best during the holidays to make Americans of all backgrounds and walks of life feel comfortable and welcome here in our nation’s house. Now, we do all of this with the help of our extraordinary staff. I mean, yes, we have wonderful volunteers, but we have folks who, each year, take a very limited budget and very little resources, and they make miracles happen in this house.
So, for our final holiday preview, I just want to take a moment to highlight just a few of the amazing folks who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes. And I don’t know if they know I’m calling them out — I don’t even know if they’re in the room. But I want to start with Deesha Dyer, who is the office — our Social Secretary.
MS. DYER: I’m here. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Deesha, there you are. There’s Deesha. (Applause.) Thank you, Deesha. And you’re going to see Cris Comerford and Susie Morrison. Cris is our Executive Chef and Susie is our Executive Pastry Chef. I want to thank them both, as well as all of the chefs, all of the staff in the kitchen who worked so hard to do everything possible to make these holidays terrific.
I want to thank all of our ushers who never get credit. I know they’re around here working away, but they’re the people who greet you, and they make sure that things are moving like they should in this house — our florists, who are tremendous. And I rarely get to thank our electricians, our carpenters, because they make sure that chandeliers are moved and structures are built so that we can put things on, and they do this in a matter of days. They turn this house upside down. And to our calligraphers — you’ll see all their handiwork throughout the ornaments. And I also always want to thank our incredible Marine Band, who you hear from throughout the season. My husband’s favorite musical crew are his own Marine Band.
This is all possible because of all of these people. And on behalf of the entire Obama family — me, Barack, Malia, Sasha, Grandma, Bo and Sunny — (laughter) — we are so proud of this team here, so proud of the time that we spent with you. We’re grateful for everything you’ve done for us over the years. So let’s give them a round of applause. (Applause.)
So before I get choked up, let me officially kick off our final White House holiday season. And as always, today, we are celebrating with our extraordinary military community, our military families. We have our servicemembers. We have veterans here today. We have wounded warriors. We have our military spouses! (Applause.) You go, spouses. And of course, we have our outstanding, handsome, beautiful, smart, talented, engaging military kids. Are there any here? Oh here they are. (Laughter.) Let’s give them all a round of applause. (Applause.)
For the past eight years, celebrating the holidays and having you all be the first that see the decorations, this has been one of our favorite White House traditions. It reminds us that between all the shopping lists and the travel plans and all those big meals, that we cannot forget what the holidays are really about, and you all help us. Our military families like all of you remind us of what matters. Because even as you serve this country in uniform, or you hold everything together here at home as a military spouse, or you prepare to attend another new school as a military kid –
(A baby in the audience interrupts.)
MRS. OBAMA: – and there’s that one back there talking about I don’t know what, but there’s a little one back there who has a lot to say. (Laughter.) But you all still find time to contribute even more to your communities and to this country.
You do it all. You volunteer at local food banks. You coach your kids’ sports teams on the weekends. Many of you have even cut your Thanksgiving holiday short to come here and decorate the White House.
Just another example — we have Hazel up here — but one of our volunteers, her name is Jacqueline James. She’s from Redlands, California. Is Jacqueline here so we can really embarrass her? She’s probably still working. We’re going to do another reception for our volunteers later. But let me tell you a little bit about Jacqueline.
During her husband’s 22 years in the Army, her family — she and her family, they spent the holidays in five different states and even on a base overseas. During that time they managed to raise seven kids. And just two weeks ago, they celebrated the birth of their fifteenth grandchild. But their family’s service to this country did not end when Jacqueline’s husband retired, as they watched two of their sons do tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. And even though Jacqueline doesn’t consider herself the most artistic decorator, she volunteered at the White House this year because — and this is what she said — she said, “If patriotism is an art,” she said, “then I am a master.”
It’s that kind of commitment to serving others, that’s what the holidays are truly about and that’s what we honor with our holiday decorations every year at the White House. And this year’s holiday theme is “The Gift of the Holidays.” And as usual, we’re going to be celebrating our country’s greatest gifts with special decorations celebrating our military families.
Down in the Booksellers, when you walk in, the visitors that come will see a tree and a flag display composed of pictures of military families who my husband and I have met on bases and in communities around the world over the course of our time here. The tree is hung with gold ornaments honoring America’s greatest heroes, the men and women who have given their lives for our country. And right next to those displays is an iPad station that allows guests to send holiday wishes to our servicemembers, and we are hoping that each of the 68,000 guests that are going to visit during the holiday season will take a moment to pause and send a message to express their gratitude.
After that, they’ll move on to see a number of other decorations that celebrate the gifts we share as a nation. For example, in the Library, we’re honoring the gift of a great education — which is important, right, school, college, all of that. And we have trees in the Library made out of crayons and pencils, so you have to check that out if you haven’t already. And to raise awareness about the millions of adolescent girls around the world who are not able to attend school, we’ve got two trees that are decorated with special ornaments, each of which has the word “girl” written in one of a dozen different languages.
So when guests head upstairs to this floor, they’re going to see that, in the Green Room, it’s filled with decorations representing the gifts provided by our White House Kitchen Garden with trees hung with ornaments in the shape of bees and fruit. And of course, right next door, we have our 19-foot-tall White House Christmas tree. It’s really big. They have to take out the chandeliers and rearrange everything just to get the tree in the house. And that’s in our Blue Room. And in the State Dining Room, you’re going to spot the official White House gingerbread house. So when you see it, guys, it’s made of all — everything on it is something you can eat. And our pastry chefs have worked very hard to make this house possible. It is beautiful. They’ve got the replica of the new White House garden, and Bo and Sunny, and lots of cool stuff.
Now, the trees in that room — there are 56 LEGO gingerbread houses representing every state and territory in America. And then somewhere around the house, we have supersize replicas of Bo and Sunny guarding their presents, because we don’t let them have their presents. (Laughter.) I’m just kidding, they get presents. They’re fine.
Altogether, the folks who come through these halls over the next few weeks will see about — how many ornaments do you think are in this house?
MRS. OBAMA: Six? (Laughter.) Ten?
CHILD: A hundred.
MRS. OBAMA: A hundred? Getting closer.
CHILD: Nine thousand.
MRS. OBAMA: Nine thousand?
CHILD: Two hundred.
MRS. OBAMA: Let me tell you, it’s 70,000 ornaments. I was pretty shocked at that.
So we can’t wait — that’s a lot of ornaments. But we can’t wait to start welcoming people into their White House this holiday season. And to everyone who created these stunning displays, all our volunteers, all our — all the folks who help make this happen, I want to once again say thank you. You all did a phenomenal job once again in turning this house into a magical place.
And to all the military families, those of you who are here today and all those around the world, I want to once again honor you for your service and your sacrifice and your love of this nation. It’s a lot that my family and I share along with you. It has been such a complete pleasure to support you in this time.
So I want to wish everyone a happy, healthy holiday season, all right? And with that, we get to have some fun, okay? Are you guys ready — I’m just talking to the kids here. (Laughter.) You guys don’t get to have fun, but here’s what you get: We will take your children from you for a moment. (Laughter and applause.) Don’t applaud too loudly. They’re still here. They can hear you. (Laughter.) And you can enjoy some cider and some cookies.
And you guys want to come with me? We’ve got some surprises in the back, and your parents will be here. We’ll try to bring them back in one piece. I can’t guarantee that they will be neat. (Laughter.) There is dye and food color — sorry. (Laughter.) All of it is washable!
All right, you guys ready to come and join me? You all, thank you all so much. Come to the White House. It’s really cool. Take care.
1:47 P.M. EST