1:33 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: How is everyone doing?
MRS. OBAMA: You excited?
MRS. OBAMA: You ready for Christmas?
AUDIENCE: Yes. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Oh! Where are Malia and Sasha? (Laughter.) Well it’s great to have you all here, and your families as well.
Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the White House as we kick off the holiday season. This is -- oh, yes, here’s a little one, you come on up! (Laughter.) Come on up!
This is one of my favorite times of year, and I’m so glad to share it with all of you.
I want to start by thanking Jennifer for that lovely introduction, but more importantly, for all that you and your family have done for our country. Military families like yours, Jennifer, and all the ones who are here today truly represent what is best about America. And that’s something that I’ve seen again and again as I’ve traveled across the country over the past few years.
I have spoken with so many military spouses who are raising their kids alone while their loved one is stationed overseas for months at a time. I have heard from so many wonderful military children who pick up extra chores, and just step up and keep their grades going while mom or dad is away. And I’ve been inspired by the survivors of our fallen who keep giving back to the community day after day.
But I also know that not every American hears these stories. Not every American knows what a Blue Star family is, or a Gold Star family is. We don’t all understand what it’s like to be in a military family. And that’s one of the reasons why Jill and I started our Joining Forces initiative, because we wanted to rally all Americans to honor, recognize, and support our military families. We wanted to make sure that never again would someone have to ask the question, what is a Gold Star family, and what does that sacrifice mean? We all should know.
And it’s also why we’re using the holiday season here at the White House to highlight our troops and our veterans, and all of their families through this year’s theme, which is “Share, Give, Shine.” That’s the theme. “Share, Give, Shine.” It’s been a big secret, even to our volunteers. (Laughter.) “Share, Give, Shine.” You got it?
So throughout the house, we’ve found creative ways to pay tribute to folks like all of you. The first is in the East Landing, when you first come in as a visitor. As visitors enter, they’ll have the opportunity to send handwritten notes to our troops stationed all around the world. They’ll also see the Gold Star tree, which Jennifer and several other families helped to create, which honors our nation’s Gold Star families whose loved ones have made the greatest of sacrifices for our country. The tree is decorated with beautiful, special ornaments, each of which has a space for Gold Star families who visit here to write their loved one’s name and to hang it on the tree.
We’ve also surrounded the tree with photos, you’ll see, and stories from more than 800 Gold Star families. Each one showcases the strength and resilience that characterizes our Gold Star families. They are heartfelt notes, like this one from a wife in East Peoria, Illinois. She wrote about her husband, saying, and this is -- these are her words -- “He never thought of himself as a hero, but he always was to me. It is still hard to know he’s gone. He was my soul mate.” Or they’re simple messages, like this one from a mom in Anchorage, Alaska, and she wrote, “I love and miss you, son. Thank you for all of the great memories we shared.”
And we’re also honoring military families like all of you in the Blue Room -- the big tree -- where we decorated the official White House Christmas tree with cards we collected from some of our country’s military kids. So the tree is decorated by kids. That’s very cool. The notes are a lot of fun, as well, and you can ready them as you go through.
Some are inspiring, like the five children in Medical Lake, Washington, who wrote, “No matter how many Christmases our dad misses, he makes every Christmas special and we love him.”
You guys -- that’s why Santa comes. You guys are great!
And then there are some more matter-of-fact ones, like the one from the boy from El Paso, Texas, who wrote, “Hey Dad, it’s cool you’re in Italy. So when are you coming back because I already know what I want for Christmas.” (Laughter.) Just keep it straightforward.
Of course, we also have many of the traditional holiday favorites alongside these tributes to our military families. We have 37 Christmas trees here at the White House -- 37! That’s a lot, right?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes!
MRS. OBAMA: Yes, that’s a lot of trees. We also have a 400-pound White House gingerbread house. Ooh -- 400 pounds. And also, in several of the rooms -- and this is something you all have to look for -- we’ve stationed the most famous member of the Obama family. Who is that?
MRS. OBAMA: Bo. (Laughter.) All right, so it’s sort of a "where’s Bo?" You’ve got to find the Bo in every room, because he’s hidden everywhere. So in one room, he’s 4-and-a-half feet tall and he’s made of felt -- you know, that soft material. And in another room, he's nine and a half inches tall, and he's made of buttons. Yeah, yeah, so you've got to look for him. So, trust me, our dog has been a little confused walking around the house for the last couple of weeks, seeing himself in gigantic form.
Those are just a few of this year's highlights, and I am so excited -- this is why it's fun -- that you all are the first of roughly 85,000 people who will visit the White House this holiday season. You're the first to see it! Yay! Yes! Score! (Applause.)
This will be such a wonderful memory for so many people, and that's why it's so special for us. And none of it could have happened without the nearly 100 volunteers we've had helping out over the past few days. They're 100 people who come from all over the country just to help decorate the White House. People like Jennifer and a few of the family members here.
So I want to finish -- end with another round of thank-yous. I want to thank all of the volunteers who helped make this house so beautiful; to all of the artists who put their creativity into use in decorating the trees and figuring out what colors we were going to use; to all the organizers, and everyone else who has made this house so beautiful and turned our simple ideas into reality. I want to thank all of the Gold Star families for your enduring strength and commitment to this country. And I want to thank all of the troops, all of our veterans, all of our military families, whose service and sacrifice inspires us all.
So thank you. Thank you. Thank you. We can't say it enough. Thank you. I know for some of you, this holiday season will be tough. But hopefully, it's times like this that make you know that you live in a grateful nation, and that we are just so inspired by your sacrifice. And hopefully, this is a memory that will stay with you every holiday season.
So, with that, it's time for us -- are you guys ready to do some work? Yeah? All right. So I've got a little surprise for you. So, the parents, you guys stay seated. You guys want to come with me? We're going into another room, where we have some more surprises and -- could be cookies! I don't know. (Laughter.) I don't know. But we'll see.
So, you guys come with -- it could be -- I don't know what it is. Are you ready to come?
MRS. OBAMA: All right. So, you guys, grownups, you guys stay seated. We'll give you something to occupy your time. (Laughter.)
All right, you guys ready? All right, everybody follow me. And, little ones, if you want your mommies, your mommies can come, too -- for the little ones.
All right, you all, thank you so much. (Applause.)
1:43 P.M. EST