Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at 2013 Holiday Press Preview

December 04, 2013

MRS. OBAMA: Well, hello, everyone. You guys look great -- I'm talking about the front row. (Laughter.) You guys look okay, too. Well, I am thrilled to welcome you all here to the White House. Are you excited?


MRS. OBAMA: Why are you excited? (Laughter.) Because it's Christmas? Because you're going to get presents soon? Because there may be treats somewhere? Yes, a few heads nodding. Well, we're excited to have you guys here with us today.

I want to start by thanking Diane and her amazing family for all that they've done for this country and for that eloquent introduction, and for being one of the many fabulous volunteers who helped make this White House so beautiful. In fact, Diane told me that she got to work in this room, so we can personally thank her for this beautiful -- these beautiful decorations. Diane, we're just so grateful to you. And I want you all to know a little bit about Diane -- that in addition to the long hours that she put in this week, on top of all of that, she has spent countless hours volunteering regularly in her community through her church, through the Red Cross.

So volunteering is no stranger -- or Diane is no stranger to volunteering. In fact, Diane isn't alone in the contributions she's making -- in fact, I believe she embodies the spirit that we see in military families –- families like all of yours all across this country, particularly during the holiday season. You all are serving our nation. You all are volunteering in your communities every day. And you're also taking care of business at home with your own families.

And during this holiday season, as we gather with our loved ones, I'd ask every American to remember what our military families and servicemembers often experience during this time of year. Let us all remember the sacrifices they make to proudly serve all of us.

For example, I'm thinking today about the thousands of men and women in uniform serving abroad who wake up in the middle of the night in some remote part of the world to read a special holiday story to their children over Skype, or to be there on the screen to experience that special moment of joy when their kids open those presents from Santa.

And then there are the military families who spend hours painstakingly filling holiday care packages for their loved ones in uniform –- sending them miniature Christmas trees, making holiday cookies, creating special homemade cards, doing their best to help them experience the magic of the holidays wherever they may be.

And let us remember that many military families are assigned to bases that are far from their extended families, so they aren't always able to make it home to see grandma and grandpa. And as a consequence, they have to find new ways to make the season bright. So they reach out, and they band together with other families, and they create their own special military family celebrations and traditions. And that's what I've learned that military families do.

No matter what challenges you all face –- during the holidays or any other time during the year -- you all just dig a little deeper. I say this time and time again. You just get creative and you find ways to make it work, and you do it with such strength and humor and grace. And on top of all of that, somehow, like Diane, so many of you still manage to find time over the holidays and throughout the year to give back to your communities, once again digging deep and going above and beyond.

In fact, a recent survey shows that 81 percent of military family members reported volunteering in the past year, and that's compared to just 27 percent of the general public. So you guys really make us all look bad. (Laughter.) But in short, your sacrifice and your service to this country, your families' stories are such an important part of our great American story -- stories that remind us of the true meaning of the holiday season.

And that actually brings me to this year's official White House holiday theme, which is "Gather Around: Stories of the Season." This holiday season, we'll be focusing on the stories behind classic American holiday traditions -- traditions celebrated here at the White House and across the country. Our goal is for every room and every tree to tell a story about who we are and how we gather around one another to mark the holidays.

And that starts with all of you -- literally. In fact, when visitors arrive, the very first thing they'll see is a tree decorated to pay tribute to our Armed Forces. This tree, graced with special Gold Star ornaments, tells the story of some of our greatest heroes: Those who gave their lives for our country. And any Gold Star family who visits the White House can create their own ornament to honor their loved one. In addition, everyone who visits this White House this year gets a chance to fill out an Operation Honor Card pledging to serve their community in honor of our military families, your servicemembers, your veterans, whoever you choose, just find a way to serve.

We also have an entire room -- it's right next door, it's the Blue Room, one of my favorite rooms -- dedicated to the idea of gathering around our military. The tree in that room is decorated with holiday greeting cards drawn by military children from bases all across the country as a way to celebrate their parents' service. And they're beautiful, they're really sweet cards.

So that's how we'll be honoring our veterans and servicemembers and their families this holiday season. And I would ask during this time that every American find a way to honor these great Americans, not just during the holidays, but every day. And let us never forget the debt that we owe these men and women and their amazing families.

As for the rest of the house, because there is more, we have a number of special touches that build on our "Gather Around: Stories of the Season" theme. In the East Garden Room, you'll see Christmas trees made entirely of stacks of books. You may have seen those coming in, they're very cool. In the Cross Hall, you'll see trees reflecting the idea of gathering around our heritage. They'll be decorated with ornaments representing great American sites like the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore, and there's some silhouettes of people you might know today in history, so you guys will look and see if you recognize anyone.

And of course, we have our usual first dog display. This year, Bo will be joined by his little sister Sunny, our new pup, and the two of them will be surrounded by books. And I was surprised to see last night, this year they actually move. They're mechanical. This is a new step. We're stepping up in the world of Bo-and-Sunny honoring. And these are just a few of this year's highlights.

Although people who visit the White House will see dozens of trees and wreaths, they're going to see thousands of ornaments and they're going to see a gingerbread house that weighs about 300 pounds -- it's pretty big -- some of the best sights they'll see are kids enjoying all of this just wonderful glory. Some of the best times in this White House is just watching the faces of kids as they walk through this house and count the trees and look at the ornaments.

And none of this would be possible without the 83 volunteers like Diane who came from all across the country to help us decorate, once again, sacrificing, leaving their families -- because they start decorating this house the day after Thanksgiving. It would not be possible for us to do all of this without our volunteers. They are a pleasure to work with, they are high-energy, they are positive. And just look around. I mean, every year they just outdo themselves. So we are just so grateful for their hard work and enthusiasm.

Now, over the course of this season, about 70,000 people will come to see our holiday decorations -- not bad. And I can't imagine a better group of people than all of you to be our very first guests. Don't you feel special? No one has seen these, not even the President has seen these. (Applause.) He hasn't seen them yet. You guys are the first.

And truly, it is a treat to make you all the first every season, because you all do so much for us. And we are so proud and so honored and so grateful. And we just want to give you a chance to bring your families in to just get a little special something just to remind you just how special we all think you are.

So I want you all to enjoy every minute in this house. I'm going to stop right now because we've got a little something we're going to do with the kids. All the kids, you guys think you're ready to go have some fun?


MRS. OBAMA: I'm going to take your kids. (Laughter.) And don't worry, nothing can be broken that can't be repaired. I guarantee you my kids have broken it if it can be broken. And we're going to go and do some decorating. Our chefs and our bakers and our florists -- they're over there -- they've got special little things that you can make, little gifts. You guys ready for that?

CHILD: Yes, ma'am!

MRS. OBAMA: Yes, ma'am! (Laughter.) I love that. So why don't you guys get up. You guys can come and go with me. Parents, you guys hang out. Get some cider, some cookies, look at the ornaments. Breathe a little bit. They're in good hands. I guarantee you we will not lose them -- but I can't guarantee you they will come back clean. (Laughter.) That's the only thing I can't guarantee, so if you want pictures of them clean, do it now. (Laughter.)

And thank you. Have a happy holiday, from my family to all of yours. Enjoy this holiday season. Be safe, be happy. And gather round together, and remember what this is all about.

You all, take care. Love you much. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at 2013 Holiday Press Preview Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320187

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