Veterans' families first to view White House in its Christmas glory
White House decorations for the 2011 holiday season in the Grand Foyer are shown on Nov. 30, 2011, in Washington, DC.
Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - "Shine, Give, Share" is the theme for Christmas at the White House, where doors flung open Wednesday to the first wave of guests allowed to ogle its fragrant, fanciful holiday finery, including no fewer than 37 trees.
But amid the holiday gaiety, the White House decorations also express a somber tone: A tree dedicated to fallen troops and decorated by their surviving "Gold Star Families" rises near the entryway, through which 85,000 holiday visitors are expected.
The tree is aglow with gold-rimmed, white stars honoring the individual war dead. Next to the tree, a large monitor flashes their pictures, short biographies and messages from the families left behind.
One of the dead is Pfc. Kristofor Stonesifer, 28, of Missoula, Mont., an Army Ranger killed the night the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001.
His mother, Ruth Stonesifer, from suburban Philadelphia, helped trim the tree to remember her son. She described him as "a vegan, vegetarian philosophy major" who was an ROTC student at the University of Montana.
The largest of the White House trees - an 18.5-foot-tall balsam fir from Wisconsin - honors "Blue Star Families," those with a member in the armed forces. Standing tall in the Blue Room, the tree carries medals, battle ribbons, brass buttons, old martial photos and even an ornament camouflaged for combat, wearing digitized green.
The decorating team included White House personnel and 136 volunteers from 37 states. The largest contingents came from Illinois, California and Virginia.
Room after room is festooned with topiaries, poinsettias, red roses, crystal snowflakes, shimmering stars, silver bells and yards after yards of pine swags and colorful, wired ribbon. The decorators strove for what stylists call "the wow factor."
And the "bow-wow" factor.
The Obamas' Portuguese water dog, Bo, is featured in almost every room, appearing by turn in fabric, buttons or candy. One sculpture took 35 yards of black-and-white felt; another artwork of Bo was made of 318 buttons, and still another included 1,911 pieces of black licorice and a dozen marshmallows.
Higher in calories - and crowd appeal - is the 400-pound White House gingerbread house that features white chocolate as its exterior. It took two months and many more hands to concoct the nearly two-foot confection, said pastry chief Bill Yosses.
Military families and children were the first guests to see the Christmas finery. But another attendee stole the show.
"The real Bo!" one child squealed as the pet, wearing a red leash, padded into the State Dining Room.
Bo even has planted a paw print near where the rest of the Obamas have signed their 2011 holiday card, an artist's rendering of the White House library, spruced up for Christmas, with its fireplace roaring.
Its message: "From our family to yours, may your holidays shine with the light of the season."
(c)2011 Tribune Co.
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