MRS. OBAMA: Hi, everyone. What’s going on? You guys doing okay? Hi to you guys, the grownups here, too. (Laughter.) Well, welcome to the White House. (Applause.) It’s the holiday time!
Let me start by thanking Cilicia for that wonderful introduction, as well as all the volunteers who have traveled from across the country -- and we’ve got people who have come from around the world -- to help us decorate the White House for the holidays.
I also want to say a special thank-you all of the servicemembers, our veterans, our wounded warriors who are here today, as well as our amazing military spouses and our fabulous military kids. Do we have any military kids in the house? (Applause.) It is an important part of our White House holiday tradition to kick off the season by celebrating with our extraordinary military families. And we do this because of everything that you all do every day to make our country great.
This time of year it’s easy to get caught up in all the holiday whirlwind –- making the lists, and the errands, and the travel plans -- that we sometimes forget what the holiday season is all about. But sharing this special time with our military families reminds us that this season is about so much more. It’s about giving more than we receive, right, guys? (Laughter.) It’s about serving others. It’s about toys, too. (Laughter.) But it’s about finding ways to lift up our communities every day in every season.
And that’s what all of you all do for this country -- whether you’re serving in uniform with multiple deployments under your belts, or serving without a uniform as a military spouse holding down a household while continuing your education or your career, or as a military kid adjusting to maybe your 7th or 8th new school. You all represent the very best of us. And then in the midst of all that you already have going on in your lives, you still find time to be leaders in your communities -- volunteering with your congregations, or organizing the local food drive, or running the PTA meeting at night, coaching Little League on the weekends.
So many of you here today truly embody that commitment to service. Just take Cilicia, for example, who, as you heard, is a proud military spouse living in Alexandria, Virginia. Her husband is a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, and like most military spouses, Cilicia has endured frequent moves. In fact, she told us that their three-year-old son has already lived in three different states.
So it’s no wonder why Cilicia hardly has time to decorate her own house for the holidays, yet she still found time to be here with us to help decorate the White House. And, as she put it -- and these are her words -- she said, “Diving right in to the holiday activities where we’re stationed helps make each new place feel like home.”
Or take Andrea Marks from Spotsylvania, Virginia. Andrea, where are you? Back there -- hey, girl! (Laughter.) Andrea is a retired 30-year Army combat veteran. And during her -- yes. (Applause.) During her impressive career, she did five overseas tours. She served as a Drill Sergeant, and was part of a command team that led a brigade in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
And today, Andrea continues to serve. She spends time with wounded warriors through Fort -- through the USO with Fort Belvoir. She volunteers with the Special Olympics. And you see with her holiday hat on, she was also here helping to decorate the White House. (Laughter.) Looking quite festive.
And that kind of commitment to giving back, that’s what the holidays are really all about. And that’s why -- (baby cries) -- and, yes, it’s about milk in a bottle, too. (Laughter.) But that’s one of the reasons why Jill Biden and I started our Joining Forces initiative that Cilicia talked about. Because we want to make sure that we’re serving all of you -- all our men and women in uniform, our veterans and our military families -– as well as you serve us. And as we ring in another holiday season, we’re going to make sure that the over 68,000 visitors who will pass through these rooms over the coming weeks know about and honor your service and sacrifice.
This year’s holiday theme is “A Timeless Tradition.” And as usual, we’ll be continuing our proud White House tradition of honoring military families with special decorations. The very first thing visitors will see in the East Landing is a tree that pays tribute to our armed forces. This tree is adorned with Gold Star ornaments that honor some of America’s greatest heroes -- the men and women who gave their lives for our country. Next to that tree is an iPad station that allows guests to tweet and email holiday wishes to our servicemembers.
And then there’s our amazing White House Christmas tree in the Blue Room that I just saw -- pretty amazing -- which is also dedicated to our military families. This year’s tree stands over 18 feet tall. I know, it’s big, it’s big. (Laughter.) And it’s covered from trunk to tip with messages from military families to their servicemembers stationed around the country and around the world. And after the holidays, we’re going to be sending each family member their message as a special keepsake.
And as -- much like these military decorations, the rest of our decorations celebrate proud American traditions and our singular American spirit. In the East Colonnade, you’re going to see hundreds of messages from students from local schools sharing their dreams for the future, and you can read about their hopes and aspirations on these beautifully handcrafted snowflakes hanging from the ceilings.
And then in the White House Library, we’re honoring great American authors and thinkers with a holiday forest of novels and manuscripts trimmed with pages of text and inspirational quotes. And then, kids -- we’re going to see this soon -- you don’t want to miss the State Dining Room, which features dozens of vintage nutcrackers -- little-bitty Army nutcracker men right over there -- and there’s a six-foot-tall Teddy Bear. I haven’t seen that yet. I can’t wait to see that. (Laughter.) And, of course, in the State Room, there’s the official White House gingerbread house which weighs 500 pounds. It’s a big house. It’s the White House. (Laughter.)
We also have more than 70,000 ornaments here in this house, 62 trees -- a lot of trees -- as well as 56 snowmen and snowwomen in the garden representing every state and territory in the country. And then we’ve got a dog display -- (baby cries) -- she is like, get me out of here, mom. (Laughter.) Take her to see the gingerbread house. She can have whatever she wants there. (Laughter.)
But, you guys, have you seen the dog display with Bo and Sunny?
MRS. OBAMA: I haven’t seen that yet, either. Well, Bo and his sister -- there’s a tree with treats -- with doggy treats and tennis ball ornaments. And I think I’ve heard Bo and Sunny are pretty excited about that one, so we’ll have to -- I’ll have to ask them what they think about it.
So it’s a great kickoff. It’s a beautiful home. Everything looks wonderful. The volunteers have done a phenomenal job. And, kids, you guys will be the first to see it. So you have to let me know what you think, whether it passes muster, okay?
So I want to once again thank all the terrific volunteers for creating this winter wonderland of American traditions. I also want to thank the brilliant designers who are the genius behind these magical displays -- Bryan Rafanelli -- I see you there, Bryan -- and his team. We also have designers Carol Lim and Humberto Leon. My dear friend Duro helped decorate some of the rooms this year. And Carolina Herrera and her team also played a huge role this year.
So it’s time to have a little fun, but before we do that, I just want to say once again -- I want to honor all of our military families here today and around the world. Thank you, thank you for your outstanding service. Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you to all the families for your sacrifice, for being so brave and good and kind. It’s why you guys get to be here first. And we wish you guys the happiest holiday. And we wish everyone here in the country a happy holiday season. Hopefully you guys get to come down and visit the White House.
But for now, we’ve got some business to take care of. You guys want to follow me? You guys ready? We’re going to make some special surprises for your parents. It may involve something you can eat. We’re going to go see the big tree. And maybe Bo and Sunny will come by for a visit, but we have to see. They may be busy, but we’re going to see. (Laughter.)
All right. So anybody who is afraid of dogs, you tell me, okay? But they’re pretty nice. They’re bigger than they look on TV. (Laughter.) So you guys ready to go? All right, we will take care of your children. You guys sit here, relax. Don’t break anything. (Laughter.)
And happy holidays, everyone. Thanks so much. (Applause.)