The First Lady plans an understated and "green" holiday at the White House

By Sandra Sobieraj Westfall
Updated December 02, 2009 05:55 PM
Olivier Douliery/Abaca

It used to be that Christmas at the White House dazzled visitors with the glitter of thousands of fairy lights. But not this year. Not in this economy and not with this practical-minded First Lady.

On Wednesday, Michelle Obama debuted a White House whose decked halls were decidedly understated. Where the Bushes and Clintons previously put up a dozen Christmas trees in the mansion’s Foyer and Cross Hall alone, there are just seven on the entire State floor this year. The biggest of them – the 18½ foot Douglas fir in the Blue Room – is decorated with recycled ornaments that Mrs. Obama’s team dug out of the warehouse where old White House decorations are stored.

“We took about 800 ornaments left over from previous administrations, we sent them to 60 local community groups throughout the country, and asked them to decorate them to pay tribute to a favorite local landmark and then send them back to us for display here at the White House,” said Mrs. Obama.

Decorating in woodland colors of brown, gold, claret and cinnamon, Mrs. Obama chose as her theme, “Reflect. Rejoice. Renew.” Aides said the toned-down d cor was both a nod to the tough economic times and Mrs. Obama’s interest in environmentalism. (The traditional White House gingerbread house features a miniature kitchen garden like the one Mrs. Obama had dug on the South Lawn.)

“For the Obama family, Christmas and the New Year has always been a time to reflect on our many blessings, to rejoice in the pleasure of spending time with our family and our friends, and to renew our commitment to one another and to the causes that we believe in,” the First Lady said.

The first of 17 White House holiday parties was held Tuesday night, for the 92 volunteers who strung lights and hung ornaments. Mrs. Obama herself, who teased the volunteers about making a lot of partying noise, only popped down for a minute.

“She said the girls were upstairs doing homework and she couldn t stay,” said volunteer Kim Fawley, a schoolteacher from Broadway, Va.