Wednesday evening, after having worked on the decorations for the past five days, all of the volunteers were invited to a reception at the White House. This would be the first of many holiday parties at the house this season. Mrs. Obama estimated that over 100,000 people would get to enjoy the decorations we had created.
The party started at 4:00, but we were told to gather near the entrance starting at 3:30. There was a large line at the entrance. About 500 people were invited to the party. In addition to the Christmas decorating volunteers, there are many others who volunteer at the White House through the year, and all those people were invited.
Our id’s were checked four times, and we had to go through an airport-like security screening process to get inside. Ultimately, we entered through the East visitor’s entrance just as we had done every day before. The difference was this time we were guests and were allowed to actually sit on the furniture!
The party was spectacular to say the least. The house just glittered. Everything in the White House is perfectly cleaned and maintained, so in its Christmas finery, it really shined. I stopped to ask one of the housekeepers one day what was the secret to the deep shine on the marble floors, and the answer was clear. “We polish them every day.” With the amount of traffic through the house, this made sense. The movie theater was used as the coat check for the party. The first family can watch first run movies in the theater, and one day while working in the house, we saw Warner Brothers delivering current movies. The theater is a beautiful space luxuriously appointed in red velvet, and located along the East Colonnade.
The stage for the party was set in the Visitor’s Foyer where the male chorus from Princeton was singing. There were about 20 of them and the downstairs hall was filled with their voices. After that, I bumped into Santa who was welcoming people at the foot of the stairs going up to the main floor. I walked through all the rooms we had decorated on the lower level first. People were really enjoying themselves. There was a table set up in the Lower Cross Hall with wine, sparkling water, or champagne. The cocktail napkins were beautiful and had the Presidential seal embossed in gold. Upstairs in the main floor, the magic unfolded. As soon as you entered the Grand Foyer, you could hear the Marine Corps band playing swing style Christmas music in the East Room. It was such a festive atmosphere.
The foyer was magical with the giant urns filled with the Aspen branches we had decorated days before. The icy branches we wove into them just sparkled. There was another drink station set up in the Cross Hall with wine and water, and another one with coffee and hot chocolate. There were a few tall round bistro type tables set up in the grand foyer draped in red tablecloths. The flower arrangements in the Grand Foyer were small bouquets of red roses and coffee berries. Amazingly fresh was the only way to describe them.
Once you moved into the East Room, the scene was so festive. To the right was a station serving the richest eggnog you have ever tasted.
Four round tables in the center of the room had beef tenderloin; pork tenderloin; a giant punch bowl filled with oysters on the half shell, shrimp, and crab claws; tiny roasted potatoes; white asparagus; fresh vegetables; and smoked salmon.
There were homemade breads to put things on and amazingly delicious sauces. No surprise that everything you tasted was cooked to perfection…just as all the meals we had eaten there before were prepared. There was a table set up serving roast turkey…..the most perfectly browned bird ever. There was also a ham carving station here as well and there were dressing balls and cranberry sauce as well. For desssert, there were homemade Christmas cookies, apple pie, chocolate cakes, coconut cakes, and so many other things I can’t recall them all. There was also a full bar, and another station for wine and water. After you get
all that delicious food in your mind, filter in the marine corps band, the four towering Christmas trees and wreaths on gorgeous mirrors, the beautiful golden silk draperies at the windows, and three enormous crystal chandeliers overhead and you have the makings of a magical event. There were countless butlers. These people made certain that no dish on the table was empty, and made certain that you had what you needed. Whenever a glass would be set down, it would magically disappear. Nothing ever ran out on the food tables. There was a constant flow of fresh goodies from the kitchen. The entire East Room scene was repeated again in the State Dining room….with the exception of the band.
In the Red, Blue, and Green rooms you could sit on all of the furniture. At 5:00 Mrs. Obama descended the Grand Staircase and addressed the crowd. She was so appreciative of the effort of all the volunteers. She talked about how so many of the states were represented. She talked about how proud we should be because of all the people who will enjoy the house during the holidays. She was certainly clear that this was not her house…..that it was the People’s house….and that EVERY American should be proud of it. After being in the house and seeing how many people it takes to run it…..butlers, cooks, housekeepers, janitors, carpenters, electricians, plumbers,
Secret Service, photographers, and then on top of the the First Lady’s and President’s staff….it is very clear that it is not a private house. Mrs. Obama spoke for about eight minutes and then shook hands with many people in the audience. It was a great experience to see that these people are in fact real people.
We were at the party from about 4:00 to 6:00. About 5:50, the State Dining Room doors were closed, and they used the door closing to start ushering people out of the house. Eventually only the East Room was open, and it was closed by 6:15. The crowd slowly started to leave, and I would estimate that by 6:45 everyone was gone. It is a good thing because at 7:00 there was another holiday party at the house!
The entire experience was eye opening for me. The operation of the house is incredible. It is an entertaining machine. Everything is so beautifully maintained and cared for. Everything works like clockwork, and because so many of the staff have been there for so many years, it runs very smoothly. Everyone knows what to do and when to do it….and they do it with a sense of urgency and pride that is absent from lost of areas in our country’s work force. If every American could have this experience, they would change the way they think about the President’s life (maybe not the politics) and they would change the way they work.