1:33 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Well, hi, everyone. Welcome to the White House. Pretty cool, huh? Yes.
Well, let me start by thanking Jennifer, first of all, for that very lovely introduction, and to welcome her family here as well, her father and her husband. We are just so grateful for your service and so glad you could be here. Thank you, Jennifer, for everything that your family -- you and your family have done for this country and what you've done to help make this house as beautiful as it is.
As First Lady, I think you all know that I have had the privilege of traveling all across this country. And one of the best things I get to do is to meet with all of the wonderful, extraordinary military families like Jennifer's family and all of your families. And it's an honor, truly an honor to host you all here today at the White House. It's a cool house. I like it.
I have said this many times before and I will say it again, because I can't say it enough -- our military families truly represent the very best that this country has to offer. And I've seen it up close. You all do so much for this country, and you do it with such amazing poise and grace.
You all are outstanding neighbors. You are just phenomenal, focused parents. You all are tremendous coworkers and community leaders in your own rights. And you all do this under such extraordinary circumstances. So many of you are doing it while moving from base to base every couple of years, enduring all of those months of long deployments with loved ones serving, oftentimes, halfway around the world.
And then, there are our military kids. You guys look gorgeous today, and handsome -- (laughter) -- and very clean. (Laughter.) And we're going to try to change that, because we're going to have sugar and glue and stuff like that. And it will be okay, moms and dads, because the photos will have been done. So they can get a little messy and get the black Bo cookies around their mouths. (Laughter.)
But you guys are very brave. You all are tremendous heroes in your own rights, because we know how hard you all work to adjust to all the changes that go on in your life. How many new schools have you guys been -- how many schools have you guys been in? And give me some numbers. Have you been -- you can go ahead. How many schools have you been to?
MRS. OBAMA: And how old are you?
MRS. OBAMA: Ten. Four schools -- 10 years old. That is typical. And then you meet these kids and they've been to so many schools in a few years, but they're adjusting. They're keeping their grades up, right? (Laughter.) I can tell you're an A student. I can just feel it. (Laughter.)
And so many of you step up and handle your business while mom or dad is away. Right? You do what you can do. And I just want you all to know -- all of you -- just how proud we are. We are so proud of you. We think you're pretty amazing individuals. I know it may not feel that way, but you're special. And we're just so happy to have you here. We're grateful for your sacrifice. We're grateful for you service.
And that's really why we wanted to invite all of you here today -- to say thank you. This is one big, huge thank you. From me to you all -- thank you. We have found some wonderful ways to pay tribute to your service and sacrifice as an important part of our holiday decorating efforts here at the White House.
And it starts, as you all have seen, the minute visitors walk through the White House for their tours. The first thing they see, the very first tree they see honors our men and women in uniform for the extraordinary sacrifice they and their families have made. And thanks to several of you here today, I know that this tree is now decorated with special Gold Star ornaments bearing the names of some of America’s greatest heroes, those who gave their lives for our country. And any Gold Star family who visits the White House during this season will have the opportunity to decorate their own ornament and hang it on that very tree for the entire holiday period in honor of their loved ones.
But there’s more. Because in that area, there’s also an opportunity for visitors to fill out Operation Honor cards, and I filled out many myself. But these cards are used to pledge an individual service to their community in honor of our military families, servicemembers and veterans. And guests will also be able to write a note expressing their gratitude for the service that all of you have given to this country.
And we are also honoring our military families with some very special decorations on the official White House Christmas tree that’s in the Blue Room. It’s the biggest tree in the house. It’s huge -- stands close to 19 feet tall. It is one of my favorite trees. This very special Joining Forces tree is covered with hand-decorated ornaments made by military children living in U.S. bases around the world. We have spent months and months gathering these beautiful ornaments, and guests will be able to take the time and read the messages and hear from these kids directly as they tour the White House.
In addition to these unique tributes to our military families, we also have many of the traditional holiday favorites built around our central theme. And as a little bit of a history lesson, the custom of selecting an official holiday theme began in the 1960s when First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy created a nutcracker-themed Christmas for her daughter Caroline. And this year’s theme is “Joy to All.” It celebrates the many joys of the holiday seasons: the joy of giving and service to others; the joy of sharing our blessings with one another; and, of course, the joy of welcoming our friends and families as guests into our homes over these next several weeks.
We’ve also continued the tradition of decorating trees throughout the house. We have 54 trees in the White House -- 54. That’s a lot of trees. Fifty-four trees that reflect the theme including four trees in the grand foyer, which is the area out here. There are four beautiful trees that are trimmed with ornaments paying tribute to the holiday legacies of former First Ladies dating back to Jacqueline Kennedy.
And this is a really wonderful treat -- some of them are replicas, but there are a few on there that are original ornaments. And they’re tagged, so when you look on them you can see some of them are mine, some of them are Laura Bush’s, and they just give you a sense of what Christmas felt like in other administrations with other families and First Ladies.
And of course, keeping with past holiday traditions, we have our annual White House Gingerbread House. Have you guys seen that yet?
MRS. OBAMA: It is -- Bill Yosses, our executive pastry chef, and his team did a phenomenal job. This White House looks kind of real. What do you all think?
MRS. OBAMA: It looks pretty -- oh, we get a thumbs up there. (Laughter.) Bill is over there. We got a thumbs up. But it is beautiful.
A White House holiday staple since the 1960s, this year’s house weighs nearly 300 pounds. So it’s a pretty big house, and its walls are made to resemble granite. So he did some kind of technique to make it look like real granite. And it even includes chandeliers that light up. It glows. (Laughter.) Like Rudolph’s nose, right?
So it’s beautiful. And we have a little replica First Lady’s Garden, with all the little details in there, and a big giant Bo. Bo is kind of big, don't you think? (Laughter.) That basically represents Bo’s standing in the house. (Laughter.) He is almost as big as the house. He is such a huge personality.
But we also have a special activity prepared for the young people who visit the White House this year. We thought it would be fun to give them a bookmark with a checklist that instructs them to find all of the hidden Bo ornaments located in eight rooms of the White House. So it’s our version of “Where’s Waldo?", but we do it with Bo. (Laughter.) And we hope that will keep kids busy while their parents are looking at the Christmas cards and you guys are really focusing in, the kids will have something to do.
But these are just a few of this year’s highlights, and I could go on and on. But I know we have cookies to decorate and things to do. But what I have to tell you is that this would be -- this would not be possible if it weren’t for the 85 fabulous volunteers like Jennifer, who took time out of their busy lives to come from all parts of the country to help us decorate this house.
And it happens overnight. I mean literally once the tree is delivered, it is a matter of days before this house is transformed into what you see. And it’s because of people like Jennifer who come in, and they build bonds, and they share stories about their grandchildren. And they're as dedicated as Jennifer is to making this house beautiful, and we’re just so grateful to have so many people willing to take time out of their lives and invest in this house for so many to see.
So it’s going to be a great holiday for everyone, and we are just excited to have visitors come through. This is our official opening. Throughout the holiday season, more than 90,000 people will come from all around the world to see this house. And I couldn’t imagine a better way to get things kicked off by having all of you here with us.
So with that, I want to, again, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your service and your sacrifice. And I do hope that your holiday season is truly special, that you really use this time to reflect and come together.
And so many of us in this country will use your lives as inspiration as we sit around our trees and our tables and we think about all that we have and all that all of you are sacrificing to make sure that we live in freedom and harmony. We are truly grateful to all of you, and we thank you.
And now, you guys ready to have some fun?
MRS. OBAMA: So I’m going to ask all of our -- ready, righteous. You guys are going to come with me. May you rise. We’ve got activities planned. Parents, do not despair. Your children will be safe. We will bring them back, maybe a little dirtier, but they’ll be happy. A little bit of a sugar high, maybe. Try not to -- try not to glue and lick at the same time. Remember there’s glue. Everything is not edible. (Applause.)
You guys ready to come with me and do some decorating? All right, let’s go. We will see you all shortly. Thank you so much. Happy holidays. (Applause.)
1:45 P.M. EST