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White House greets military families at Christmas display debut

November 28, 2012|By Katherine Skiba
  • First Lady Michelle Obama hugs a child from a military family during the preview of the White House Christmas decorations.
First Lady Michelle Obama hugs a child from a military family during the… (Olivier Douliery / Abaca…)

WASHINGTON -- “Joy to All” is the theme of the Obamas’ fourth Christmas in the White House, which threw open its festive, fir-draped doors today to the first guests of the season:  U.S. troops and their children.

Fifty-four live Christmas trees lend color and sparkle to the executive mansion. The largest of the trees is an 18-foot-6-inch Fraser fir from North Carolina that is festooned with ornaments crafted by children on U.S. military bases around the world.

Amid the greenery and garlands, another highlight: a gingerbread house, weighing almost 300 pounds, featuring lighted chandeliers and a replica of First Lady Michelle Obama’s garden.

The inaugural guests included Capt. Luis Avila, 42, and his wife and son. Avila lost a leg and suffered a brain injury from a makeshift bomb in Afghanistan during his fifth wartime deployment.

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Obama engaged four Chicago artists -- David Condon, David Lee Csicsko, Jami Darwin Chiang and Heidi Feinerman --  to add creative touches to the decor, along with Chicago event planner Gabrielle Martinez.

They joined about  85 volunteers from 38 states and the District of Columbia. Tracy Jacobson, 54, a retired detective from Irvine, Calif., was among the volunteers. “Amazing,” she called the experience. “One of the most incredible things of my life.”

A replica of Bo, the Obamas’  black-and-white Portuguese water dog, appears outside the gingerbread house, and, as in previous years, has a starring role throughout the White House’s Christmas displays.

The estimated 90,000 visitors who will stream through in coming weeks will receive a bookmark with check-off boxes to signify they’ve spotted Bo ornaments or “Boflakes” in eight locales, including the Red Room and the Green Room.

His own quarters — the Bo-val Office, so to speak — is not part of the tour.

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kskiba@tribune.com

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