The Gift of the Holidays is a theme that incorporates not just giving and receiving, but "the true gifts of life," the White House explained

By Kathy Ehrich Dowd
Updated December 22, 2016 11:12 AM

As the Obamas take part in their final Christmas season at the White House, they have chosen a holiday theme filled with symbolism.

The Gift of the Holidays — the theme unveiled on Nov. 29 — not only involves wrapped presents under the tree, but also “the true gifts of life, such as service, friends and family, education, and good health, as we celebrate the holiday season,” the White House said in a press release.

It’s also a theme that incorporates a lot of LEGOS.

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A team of LEGO Master Builders from Enfield, Connecticut, spent a total of 500 hours designing and building the gingerbread decorations for the State Dining Room. Their work includes 56 LEGO gingerbread houses representing each U.S. state and territory, which are nestled in the trees throughout the room. Each house pays homage to the state through color, architecture and other “whimsical” details, per the White House press release. More than 200,000 LEGOS were used in their design.

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But the LEGO decorations don’t end there. The mantle of the state dining room is also festooned with an 18-foot-long, first-of-its-kind LEGO paper chain that hangs alongside LEGO “gingerfriends,” all built from 4,900 LEGO bricks.

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The theme within the State Dining Room is The Gift of Family and Friends, and is meant to evoke the feeling of warmth around the holidays. The room also features the traditional White House Gingerbread House, which consists of 150 pounds of gingerbread on the inside, and 100 pounds of dough on the outside frame. For the second year in a row the gigantic confection features both the East and West Wings.

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The Obamas dogs — Sunny and Bo — also have a starring role in this year’s decorations. Oversized replicas of the Portuguese Water Dogs, crafted out of 25,000 yarn pom-poms, are on display in the East Wing Hallway.

Another highlight is of course the White House Christmas Tree, which this year is a 19-foot Douglas Fir donated by a farm in Pennsylvania. First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted a photo and video of the tree arriving last Friday, and it is now on display in the Blue Room of the White House.

The majority of the holiday decor was executed by 92 volunteers from across the country and also includes: a new tree made entirely of hoses, displayed in the White House Kitchen Garden; a winter wonderland-themed hall lined by countless snowmen, and a festive tribute to military families through the first lady and Dr. Jill Biden’s Joining Forces initiative.

This year’s decor is also environmentally friendly: 90 percent of the design uses repurposed ornaments and embellishments that were already among the White House holiday inventory.

White House Social Secretary Deesha Dyer wrote in a blog post that the holiday decorations have been in the works for six months, and include input from the first lady.

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The first lady previewed the White House decorations for military families on Nov. 29, and spoke a bit wistfully about the first family’s final holiday season.

“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 this house to as many people, to as many backgrounds as possible. We truly want to make the White House the people’s house — particularly during the holiday seasons,” she said.

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She then got emotional as she introduced the decorations for her final holiday season.

“Before I get choked up, let me officially kick off our final holiday season,” she said.

Addressing the military families in attendance, she said, “This has been one of our favorite White House traditions. It reminds us that in 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.”