Laura Bush photo

Remarks by the First Lady at a Media Preview of the 2007 Holiday Decorations

November 29, 2007

MRS. BUSH: Now I'm coming in to join the pastry chef. (Laughter.)

MR. YOSSES: Good morning, Mrs. Bush.

MRS. BUSH: Good morning, how are you, Bill?

MR. YOSSES: I'm fine, how are you today?

MRS. BUSH: I think you all have seen how fabulous the gingerbread house is. And we might call it the White Chocolate House, although gingerbread is the structure inside that holds it up; Bill probably told you.

This is the south entrance with the big columns and the stairway, the double stairway that goes up. And since this year's theme is the national parks, the animals who are around the base of the gingerbread are animals that you might see if you visit some of our national parks. We have foxes and special sheep that we would see if we were in Alaska -- bears, coyote -- a lot of things that I think you can see. And then obviously, the beautiful bird tree with the Bald Eagle on the very top. I hope you can get a close-up picture of it, because it's so beautiful. And then Barney and Beazley are in the sleigh, and Kitty will be joining them soon, as soon as Bill makes a kitty to go there. (Laughter.)

But this is the room, obviously, that the big buffet is in, that we do the dinner parties in. And you can see here how Cris has set up the buffet table, and so I'll join Cris over here. Thank you so much, Bill.

MR. YOSSESS: Thank you, Mrs. Bush.

MRS. BUSH: And Bill will be available for more questions later, if you have some for him.

You all are going to be able to sample this beautiful buffet in a minute. This will, of course, also be served to many of you when you come to the two press parties that are later on the schedule this month.

We host a lot of people, I think, really almost 20,000 people will come through either to a dinner party or a reception and see the White House. And then probably about 60,000 people will actually come through the White House during the holiday season with all the tours and the open houses and all the different people that come through at various times.

So Cris, as you can tell, has to do a lot of work between now and the last party, which I think is December 18th, is that right?

MS. COMERFORD: December 18th, yes.

MRS. BUSH: So between now and December 18th, Cris will really be cooking. (Laughter.) And you can see what a really beautiful buffet it is.

This year, because we're celebrating America's national parks, in the lead-up to the National Park centennial, the centennial of the National Park Service itself in 2016, we thought -- we think that our national parks are more precious than gold to the United States. They're our major and most fabulous and magnificent landscapes, from Yosemite to Denali to the Everglades. But they're also our sacred historical sites. The White House is a national park; Independence Hall; the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta -- many, many very important sites to our history are also our national parks.

And since gold works so well in the White House because of all the draperies and because of the major collection of vermeil that the White House was given, we thought it would be fun to use these big pieces. And you can see the plateau on this table, the mirrored piece that's running down the Dining Room table this year. James Monroe brought that to the White House from France, and so it's a very historic piece, and it's interesting and fun to be able to use it with our decorations and with our celebration of the national parks.

I know you're going to have a chance in a minute to ask Cris more questions. I don't know if you want to visit with her now while we get ready to set up for the next site.

Cris Comerford, our executive chef.

MS. COMERFORD: Hi, good morning. And since we're highlighting all of our national parks, also in conjunction with that, we'd like to highlight a lot of the different local and regional cuisines. And as you see, we start off there with a lot of artisanal and local cheeses from Virginia. We do have some cheeses also from Vermont and Hudson Valley in New York.

And going down the buffet here, we're featuring some smoked salmon from Belfast, Maine, and also some wonderful crabcakes, of course. These are local from Maryland. And we do have some wonderful dry cured ham from Virginia also. And what more is a good holiday without your chicken fried steak that has to come back -- I think this is our second season this year, because by popular demand, they love it so much.

And going all the way down, tamales with a black bean sauce is always a good Christmas tradition, especially in the South. And of course, we're featuring a lot of good spiced gulf shrimp with remoulade and cocktail sauce.

Thank you.

* * * * *

MRS. BUSH: Well, we're here in front of the major White House Christmas tree. The big Christmas tree in the White House is always here in the Blue Room. We have to remove the chandelier from the top of the tree because the tree -- top of the room, because the tree is so tall, and then the tree is secured up there where the chandelier would hang.

This year, because we are celebrating our national parks, we sent big ornaments to all 391 national parks, and asked them to ask an artist to decorate the ornament in a way that celebrates that national park.

A lot of people may not know, but the White House is a national park. All the White House grounds and the facade of the White House are taken care of by national park employees. President's Park across the street, Lafayette Square, is also part of the national park -- the White House National Park.

So we have this one here. This was the one done by the White House. When you have a chance to walk around the tree, you can find your favorite and local national park, from our most magnificent ones like Yosemite to Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park, to all the ones that are historical sites, our battlefields, national monuments.

And this is one of our most recent national parks. It's the Flight 93 National Memorial. It's at the site near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where Flight 93 crashed. And this has just been added as a national memorial to all of our big park services. This national memorial site is still raising private money to build a memorial there. They obviously get appropriations from the government, but they're also -- the Flight 93 National Memorial Site is raising private money. So if people want to give to a national park this year in commemoration of the people, the heroes on Flight 93, this might be a good idea, although you can also give to all your local ones. A lot of them have friends' groups as well.

So we have about 347 national parks represented on the tree. Yesterday we invited the artists from around the country who did these ornaments, and they came in from all parts of the United States to get to see their ornament that they decorated on this, the White House Christmas Tree.

Every year also, the White House Historical Association does an ornament, and it's very interesting, I think, that this year's ornament is a wedding. It's the wedding of Grover Cleveland, the only President who married while he lived at the White House.

So if you want to add to your White House historical collection, that's the ornament for this year.

Okay, you all ready? Move on to the next site.

* * * * *

MS. CLARKE: Hi, Mrs. Bush.

MRS. BUSH: Hi, Nancy. This is Nancy Clarke, who is the chief White House florist, and who's been here for how many years? Almost 40. Is that right?


MRS. BUSH: Oh, no. (Laughter.) Couldn't be that long.

MS. CLARKE: No, actually, this is my 30th Christmas.

MRS. BUSH: 30th Christmas, right.

MS. CLARKE: If you include private time I was a volunteer.

MRS. BUSH: Great. Nancy and I start to work on the Christmas decorations about March. It takes us that long. We think about what the theme will be, and then we start trying to develop what the decorations will be, because Nancy and florists and volunteers and a lot of the White House staff, including the plumbers and the electricians and the carpenters, build a lot of the decorations every year.

And I think this is one of the most fabulous parts of this year's decoration. This is a magnificent painting of Zion National Park by Adrian Martinez, a Pennsylvania artist. These -- the White House carpenters built these frames and built a concave canvas that would fit right in the niche -- these two niches that are here in the Cross Hall. So after they built them, then Adrian Martinez painted these two very magnificent paintings. This is Zion National Park, Angel Falls; and the other niche is the Grand Canyon from Hopi Point. And I think they are really the two magnificent pieces of this year's decorations.

Nancy and her team of volunteers are the ones who decorate every one of these trees and string all of these garlands. They decorated the garlands this year with the gold leaves, the gold aspen leaves that represent the Appalachian Trail, and then pine cones, gold pine cones and seashells that represent how beautiful our country is from sea to shining sea.

Q: Was the national park theme your idea?

MRS. BUSH: It was my idea. I hike in the national parks every year, and I'm actually Honorary Chairman of the National Park Foundation. And this year, you'll discover, when you get to see Barney Cam in a week or so, Barney and Beazley are going to be sworn in as National Park Rangers. And of course, their playground is a national park. So I think it will be really fun.

I've hiked in the national parks for the last 20 years with a group of women that I grew up with in Midland.

Q: Where did you come up with the idea?

MRS. BUSH: Well, the National Park centennial is going to be -- the centennial of the National Park Service -- some parks are actually older than that, and were set aside longer than 100 years ago -- but the centennial of the National Park Service is in 2016. And the President has issued a Centennial Challenge, both to the Congress, for increased funding for the national parks, and to the private sector for private philanthropy to match the congressional appropriations, and then get Congress to match again so that we can make sure a lot of things that need to be done in the national parks can be done between now and the centennial in 2016.

Q: Can you get the President to go with you one of these days on your hiking trips?

MRS. BUSH: That's right, and he's been to many national parks also as well. But my trips are women's trips, ladies' trips. We're not quite as tough as he is. Although we're pretty tough. (Laughter.)

Q: Who's involved in doing all of this, all the volunteers?

MRS. BUSH: Well, the volunteers come in from around the country. Many of them have volunteered for as long as 25 or 30 years. The woman who makes the cranberry tree that's traditional in the Red Room, of course, it's perfect for the Red Room, has done it for -- is it 25 years this year?

MS. CLARKE: Twenty-five years this year, and it was her 80th birthday this year.

MRS. BUSH: Thanks, everybody.

* * * * *

MRS. BUSH: Happy holidays, everybody. Welcome to the White House. This year, our theme is "Holidays in the National Parks." And the national parks are represented all over the White House, from the east entrance, when you're greeted with Cape Hatteras Lighthouse from North Carolina. You walk on in, you see the fabulous gold leaves of the aspens from the Appalachian Trail. If you keep going on downstairs on the ground floor, you'll pass Mount Rushmore. You'll go by the San Antonio Missions, and then go into the Palm Room on the far west side that is decorated with huge shell trees and wreaths of shells represent all of our national seashores.

But then, when you come upstairs in the Cross Hall, you're met with that very famous Statue of Liberty. You may not realize that Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty is one of our national parks, but they're there. And of course, that's what's welcomed immigrants to the United States for many, many years.

We have, up in the Cross Hall, also two magnificent paintings by Adrian Martinez, who is here with us today. One is Zion National Park -- they're set in the niches in the hall -- and the other one is in the Grand Canyon. So I hope you'll be able to get some great pictures of those.

On the way in, when the tourist comes in, walks in, when the tours or any of the guests, the more than 60,000 guests that will come through the White House sometime over the holidays, one of the things they'll see is the original artwork that represent both the invitation that Adrian painted, the front door of the White House. This is what's on the White House invitations for parties this year. Next is David Drummond, who is a national park artist. He's from Albuquerque. And he did this beautiful painting of the sculpture that's in the First Ladies' Garden. The First Ladies' Garden, which is on the east side, was started, the landscape architecture of it, was started by Jacqueline Kennedy, and then completed by Lady Bird Johnson and named the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden by Lady Bird Johnson. But David's painting is of the beautiful little sculpture of a gardener that's there in that east garden.

The First Ladies' Garden is also one of our national parks, because all of the grounds of the White House, and actually even the facade of the White House, is national park. And national park employees are the ones who work as the gardeners in the White House, on the White House lawn and across the street at President's Park in Lafayette Square.

And then Michael Glenn Monroe did our brochure that each one of you will get a copy of. He's a children's book illustrator and author, and also a wildlife artist. And you can see what a beautiful job he did in that little painting with the cardinal and the lawn of the White House.

And I want to thank all three of our artists very much. They're available to talk to you all and to answer any of your questions if you have any of them, have any questions for them.

And then, of course, here's our team that helps us do all of the entertaining: Cris Comerford, our executive chef, who devises and plans and cooks the major buffet that we serve during the holidays, as well as all of the dinner parties and brunches and all sorts of other parties that we have during the holidays. And then Bill Yosses, who is our pastry chef. He's the one who planned and devised the beautiful gingerbread house, which I think most of you have gotten footage of already. It's a white chocolate house this year. And in the lawn of the White House, you'll see animals that you might see in our national parks. And Barney and Beazley, of course, are on the roof in Santa's sleigh. And then Nancy Clarke is the chief florist at the White House. She's been here for about 30 years and she is the one that works with me. We start working, really, about March to devise the theme of the White House, and then she and volunteers and members of the White House staff, like the White House carpenter or the White House plumbers, build most of these things, including that big lighthouse that you see on the east side that the White House plumber built, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

So I hope you all will have a chance to meet with both of them. I'm going to come over and get a picture with the artists. Thank you so much, Adrian. Adrian not only did the invitation, he did the two fabulous paintings of the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park that are in the niches of the Cross Hall.

Q: Mrs. Bush, how many people come in and out throughout the holidays? How many visitors do you have?

MRS. BUSH: We have about 60,000 visitors. These are people that come to the parties and the receptions and the open houses and the tours that go on all during the holiday season. So on any of the days that there is not an actual party going on on this floor, there are tours that go through. So people come in and out and see the White House decorations during the entire holidays, including up until after Christmas, three nights of candlelight tours after Christmas.

Q: What do you hope to achieve in your last year at the White House?

MRS. BUSH: Well, a lot of things, Helen. Thank you for asking. I want to continue working on education. I hope the No Child Left Behind Act will be reauthorized. I want to continue to speak out about Burma. I would love to see some action on the part of the generals showing that they will let people, including Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, be freed, and have a chance to have reconciliation and the democracy that I know the people of Burma want.

So I'll continue to talk about those issues, about a lot of the really great work the people of the United States are doing, through their tax dollars, for AIDS, for instance, and malaria and other diseases across Africa, but also here in the United States as well.

Q: What about the war?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I feel encouraged about what's happening in Iraq. I hope that by this time next year, the people of Iraq have been able to reconcile and to pass the kind of government they want and that things are totally stable. And we see already that a lot of people who had left Iraq are trying to come back now and build their country, and I'm encouraged about that.

Q: Do you have a candidate for '08?

MRS. BUSH: I'm for the Republican -- (laughter) -- whichever one wins the nomination.

Q: Back on the decorations, what considerations did you take into -- what did you take into consideration this year to make it more "green"?

MRS. BUSH: Well, we did what I think a lot of families around the United States did, and that is, we used things we already had. These lights, the amber-color lights, we've had for some number of years in the White House. We haven't used them in a few years, but we did -- thought they were perfect with all of the gold things, the gold leaves and all of the other parts of the decorations this year. So we recycle that.

Of course, we always recycle some ornaments, like every family does. These are real trees, and they're from real Christmas tree growers in the United States. And these are growers, obviously, who grow trees for a business and replant after they sell some trees every year.

Q: Mrs. Bush, I know your daughter spent quite a time in Panama.

MRS. BUSH: That's right.

Q: And we'd like to know, is there something you want to tell to a Latin American audience right now?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I do want to tell them that our daughter Jenna was very warmly welcomed with UNICEF when she was in Central and South America last year. She's written a book about a girl who lives in Central America who is an AIDS orphan, who also contracted AIDS at birth. And it's a book for young people across our whole hemisphere, and also for -- especially for young people in the United States to become more aware of the problems that young people face around the world.

Q: Mrs. Bush, what about your plans to visit Greece sometime?

MRS. BUSH: Pardon me?

Q: To visit Greece anytime.

MRS. BUSH: Visit where?

Q: Greece.

MRS. BUSH: Greece -- oh, I hope I have a chance to visit Greece. (Laughter.) I hope I will this year. I don't know if I will. But I have had many opportunities to travel in Greece before George was President, and so I hope we'll have a chance to do that this year.

Q: What about a wedding here? Are you going to have a wedding -- a wedding during the --

MRS. BUSH: I'll be announcing Jenna's wedding plans sometime later, but not at the Christmas decorations. She actually is still on her book tour. She's in Denver today on her book tour. And so when she finishes her book tour, we'll make our plans, and you all will be the first ones to know. (Laughter.)

Q: Mrs. Bush, this is your last -- one of your last Christmases in Washington --

MRS. BUSH: Next to last.

Q: -- in Washington, D.C. I was just in Texas. When you look back on this time, what will you think made your time in Washington and the White House so special?

MRS. BUSH: Well, there are certainly all the people that we've gotten to know so well over the years that we're here. People that we live with and work with and see here are friendships that we'll have. Many of them were friendships we had before from when President Bush, George's dad, was here. We'll miss them a lot.

But certainly, what has made it by far the most special is just how terrific the American people are. And George and I get to see that every single day, both here in Washington and when we travel around our country.

And we're very, very encouraged by the spirit of the American people and the American people's generosity that we see both every day in our country and also around the world.

Q: Will you miss anything about the city?

MRS. BUSH: About what? The city? I love Washington. I think Washington is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. And I've loved having the chance to live in this magnificent house, and then to have all these wonderful neighborhood museums. I took Mrs. Olmert yesterday to the Corcoran Gallery to see the Annie Leibovitz show when she was in town. And all of these museums are really what I call my neighborhood museums. And I can run out quickly and see all the great shows that are here. And I want to encourage Washingtonians, as well as American visitors and international visitors when they come to be sure to go to all of these wonderful Smithsonian museums that are here. The Corcoran is a private museum, but of course, we have all these other Smithsonian museums that I visit quite often.

Q: Mrs. Bush, did you taste the Ukrainian Christmas dishes, like the (inaudible)?

MRS. BUSH: I think -- doesn't Ukraine also make a very special cookie?

Q: Yes.

MRS. BUSH: Yes, I thought so. You know, there are a lot of Ukrainian Americans that keep those recipes alive in their towns around the United States, and so they really become part of American traditions in many neighborhoods around the United States.

Q: What is your message to military families (inaudible)?

MRS. BUSH: Well, my message is that we're thinking about them, we're praying for our troops that are defending us around the world. George and I do that every day. A day doesn't go by that we don't think about both our military who are serving around the world and about the special burden of worry that's on their families when they're here at home without their loved ones. Especially on holidays, we think about the people who aren't at the table, at the holiday table, because they're either serving overseas or they were lost in the war in Afghanistan or Iraq. And we think -- and I know we're joined by all Americans when we send our special love and respect, both to our troops and to their families.

Q: Do you have any particular special memories about Christmas in Washington?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I really do. I mean, every single one of these years -- I remember especially Christmas 2001. That year, Nancy and I had met early in the year to come up with the Christmas theme and we had picked "Home for the Holidays." And we had -- the carpenters and everybody that works on the decorations had built presidential homes that were on the mantels, replicas of presidential homes. But as it turned out, after September -- we'd already picked the theme, but after September there were those 3,000 people that weren't home for the holidays, whose families were alone after September 11th. So the theme had a special poignancy for me.

So I remember that Christmas. But I remember every one of them, really. I remember the ones that are funny, like the pets in the White House, all the different -- the theme that year was "All Creatures Great and Small." And we had all the different pets that have lived here, before Barney and Beazley and Miss Kitty. So that was fun, and it was fun for children. I think children loved that one, especially.

Q: (Inaudible.)

MRS. BUSH: Well, I want to say -- and I know that I'm joined by everyone in the United States who says this as well, and that is, all of us really want to see peace. We want to see a Palestinian free state living in harmony with Israel. And that's something that we want. And I really know that Palestinian mothers and children and Israeli mothers and children want their children to live free from terrorism. And so I'm encouraged that they want to come to the negotiating table. It was very important for this summit in Annapolis that a lot of people from the international community came as well. And so my prayer is for peace in the Middle East.

Q: What's unique about Christmas in Washington?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I think there are a lot of things that are really fun, and that is, of course, the way that all the different monuments and the White House are decorated. There is an ice-skating rink, if we get cold enough weather, right here across the street, sort of down and across the street from the Willard Hotel. And when we lived here in 1986 -- '87 and '88 when we were here with Mr. Bush's campaign, I would bring Barbara and Jenna down to ice skate on that ice-skating rink, and that was fun. That's a very happy memory of mine from those years.

Q: Is there any achievement you want to be remembered for when you leave the White House?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I hope that I'll be remembered for my love of children; I think people know that, that I spent my career as a teacher and a librarian, and that while I've had the chance to live here, I've worked on a lot of issues that had to do with children -- American children, as well as children around the world.

So thanks, everybody. Merry Christmas, happy holidays. Now our artists and our team over here are also available if you have any questions.

Merry Christmas.

Laura Bush, Remarks by the First Lady at a Media Preview of the 2007 Holiday Decorations Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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