The White House

Office of the Vice President

Remarks by the First Lady at Holiday Press Preview

East Room

12:29 P.M. EST

      MRS. OBAMA:  Well, hello, everyone.  Good morning.

      AUDIENCE:  Good morning.

      MRS. OBAMA:  And Happy Holidays.  All right now, it’s Christmas.  I know you guys are in the military and you keep your kids -- but they can scream!  It’s Christmas!   It’s exciting!  They're so disciplined.  (Laughter.)

      Well, it’s good to have you all.  I want to thank you all for joining us today as we kick off the holiday season here at the White House.  And this is a very exciting time here at the White House for me and our family.

      Now, looking around, it’s easy to see and hopefully you guys have gotten to see a little bit, but you’ll get to see more, but you can understand why this is one of my favorite times of the year.  It really is.

      First of all, seeing all you beautiful kids dressed up and looking so smart and pretty and beautiful in your dresses is just so exciting.  But we’ve got -- here at the White House we have 19 Christmas trees in every corner of the White House.  So there are 19 Christmas trees here, right?  So when you walk around you count them, okay, to make sure that I was right.  All right?

      We have a giant Bo made out of pipe cleaners.  Have you all seen that yet?  Well, you’re going to see that.  It’s pretty, pretty shocking.  But it’s very cool and he’s very soft.

      We have 350 pounds of gingerbread house that you’ll get to see that took our wonderful pastry chef Bill Yosses and his team and entire month to create.  It took him a month to make this.  So you guys are going to get to see that.

      We also have some creative stations that we’ll be doing some projects this afternoon.  And I’m going to help, hopefully, if it’s not too messy.

      And over the next few weeks, more than 100,000 people will walk through these halls to enjoy the decorations and get in the holiday spirit.

      And you guys are some of the first families to see the house.  Do you realize that?  Nobody else but our family and our volunteers has seen this yet, so this is a very special day, and we’re glad to have you.

      But in many ways, this is really what the White House is all about.  And I say this all the time.  It’s the “People’s House.”  It’s a place that is steeped in history, but it’s also a place where everyone should feel welcome.  And that's why my husband and I have made it our mission to open up the house to as many people as we can, especially during the holiday seasons.

      So it goes without saying that when you look around, that our family never could have done all of this wonderful decorating on our own.  In fact, we only did a little bit of it.  That's why over the last few days nearly 100 volunteers from all over the country have been working so hard.  They’ve been making all the ornaments that -- many of them that you’ve seen.  They’ve been hanging the lights and transforming these rooms into breathtaking works of art.  And I have to say the house looks more beautiful than it did last year.  It is really something special.

      So I want to take a moment to thank everyone who helped pull this house together -- all of our volunteers, all of the artists, all the planners, all the White House staff.  Every single person in the White House is in involved in turning this house into what you see today.

      And any and everyone who has helped to bring joy to so many people, I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for all the work that you’ve done.  In the end, that spirit of kindness and generosity is really what the holiday season is all about.  And it was the idea behind this year’s theme, which is “Simple Gifts”.  That's the theme this year, “Simple Gifts,” because in the end, the greatest blessings of all are the ones that don't cost a thing -- the time that we spend with our loved ones, the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, and the joy we feel from reaching out to those in need.

      And that's why our holiday decorations this season include a children’s tree, with some beautiful gingerbread ornaments that were decorated by children of our troops.  And hopefully you’ll get a chance to see that, as well.

      We also have a very special Military Appreciation Tree in honor of our men and women in uniform who can’t always spend the holiday season with the people they love the most.  It is the creation of Deborah Mullen, my dear friend and the wife of Admiral Mike Mullen, who has been an incredible advocate for military families and is here with us today.  So, Deborah, I know you hate this, but please stand so that we can thank you.  (Applause.)

      We are also honored to be joined by so many members of the military and their families today, folks who show us every day with their service truly what it means to put others above self.  And as First Lady, I’ve had the privilege of meeting our men and women in uniform on bases and in hospitals and in communities all across the country.  And I say this all the time, but when I make those visits, I come away not just with a sense of pride and gratitude, but also with a sense of awe, both at their courage and their sacrifice and at their commitment to serving their country and their communities.

      That’s what the folks here today are doing with a very special program, “Toys for Tots,” that is run by the Marine Reserves.  Each of them has volunteered their time, collecting and distributing some of the millions of toys that will be delivered to children this year.  “Toys for Tots” is just one example of how our military families are serving our communities and Americans in need all around the country, year-round.

      And I’m thrilled that the White House staff will be supporting their efforts with a toy drive to help make this holiday a little bit brighter for children right here in the D.C. community.  This is the second year that we’ve participated.  So I want to thank you all so much for coming.  I hope that you enjoy yourselves here today.  I want to thank you for your service and your work.  I want to thank your families for the sacrifices you all make, especially our little people who sacrifice just as much as the big people do.  This is your time of year.

      So we wish you guys a happy and healthy holiday season.  We want you to enjoy this day, this time here at the White House.  Have fun.  Moms, they’re going to get a little messy, so just bear with them.  So make sure you have fun.

      And now, I would like to introduce the President and CEO of “Toys for Tots,” Lieutenant General Pete Osman, who is going to share some more of the details about this year’s program.

      So thank you all, and let’s welcome the General.  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)

      GENERAL OSMAN:  Mrs. Obama, let me start off with -- by thanking you so, so much not just for having us here today, but for what you did last year.  For those of you who don’t know, the First Lady last year stepped up and said she really wanted to assist with “Toys for Tots,” and she did.

      I got to tell you that last year we had an incredibly successful campaign.  And there’s no doubt in my mind that the First Lady standing behind it really made it successful.  So, Mrs. Obama, you made a difference.  Thank you very, very much for that.  (Applause.)

      MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you.

      GENERAL OSMAN:  Our First Lady made a difference and certainly as she has pointed out so many times, our military service members today are making a difference, certainly Marines amongst them.

      Marines have an opportunity though to make a difference in a very different way, not only in the protection of our country, but also in helping those less fortunate families and particularly less fortunate children at Christmas time through the “Toys for Tots” program.  Those of you who don’t know it, the Marine Corps has been doing “Toys for Tots” for 63 years.  And over those 63 years, the Marine Corps together with the thousands of volunteers have been able to distribute over 400 million toys to almost 200 million children.  What an accomplishment.

      But it couldn’t be done alone.  It really is the generosity of the American people that make it work.  So I once again appeal to that generosity of our American public to step forward and once again buy that toy, drop it in one of our barrels.  If it’s more convenient, go online to “Toys for Tots” and make that online donation.  It will make a difference.  In fact, a $25 or $30 donation goes a long way in helping a less fortunate child at Christmas time.

      And let me share just a quick story with you that will show you an example of what I’m talking about.

      A couple of years back, there was a wonderful family in D.C. -- Mom, Dad, five kids.  Happy family.  And unfortunately, tragedy struck.  The father took ill and quickly passed away.  The mom, who had been a stay-at-home mom, all of a sudden found herself having to find a job while still raising her five children.  She realized she was going to have to make some tough choices, and she did.  I mean, she had a house payment to make, utilities, food to buy, clothing and all that, and she said, “We’re going to have to cut Christmas this year.”

      Now, she had to make this decision early on, probably in the October time frame.  And she was comfortable with it.  But as Christmas drew nearer and nearer, she became very concerned.  In fact, on Christmas Eve, she was distraught.  She was beside herself with the thought on Christmas morning her children were going to come downstairs and there weren’t going to be any gifts under that little Charlie Brown Christmas tree that they had.

      Fortunately, the knock at the door came, and standing there were two Marines, a couple of volunteers, and a bunch of boxes full of toys.  So needless to say, for the Johnsons the next morning, they had a wonderful Christmas.

      But that’s not the end of the story.  Interesting thing was one of the toys was a big old red fire truck.  And one of her sons really took a liking to that fire truck.  That became his favorite toy that day and for the rest of the next year and actually to years after that.  And as you would have it, that fire truck had an impact.  Today, that man is one of D.C.’s finest.  He’s a firefighter with the D.C. Fire Department.

      So if you don’t think that toy makes a difference, just remember this story.  And the great thing is, is there are thousands of stories just like that out there.

      So I once again ask the American public to dig deep, be the generous Americans that you always are, buy that toy, put it in one of our barrels, make that online donation.  Believe me, it will make a difference.

      Work together with our Marines, our thousands of volunteers, and certainly the First Lady in bringing the joy of Christmas and sending a message of hope to America’s less fortunate children.

      One last thing.  It’s only 24 days ‘till Christmas.  Thank you all very much.  (Laughter and applause.)

      MRS. OBAMA:  Well, we are certainly all going to do our part here at the White House.  And one thing I remember last year -- and just to note -- is that sometimes people forget about the broad range of children in a family.  And oftentimes, I know last year, there were a lot of wonderful toys for the little itty bitty ones, but then there was a gap in toys for kids who were sort of beyond toy age.

      So also, American public, when you’re out there shopping, thing about the cross-section, think about the teenagers, think about the pre-teens.  I know it’s exciting to go out there and buy the cute little toys, and we do that as well, but think about the spectrum as well as you shop.  That’s one thing we focused on here in the First Lady’s office is that segment of the youth population.

      So we know people will turn out this year.  Sounds like people are shopping away out there, and that’s a good thing.  And people should look for these boxes.  Go online.  We urge you to help make the holidays special for every family in this country.

      And to the Marine Reserves, you guys are amazing for what you do, because they do this on top of what they normally do.  There are a lot of good stories in the work that these folks do on this program.  So we’re very grateful to you all, and we’re going to do our part.  So thanks so much.

      And now we have a special surprise for the kids who are here.  I want to bring out three of our amazing White House artisans.  We’ve got Laura Dowling who is our florist, we’ve got Cris Comerford, Bill Yosses, and several of the White House chefs who are going to show us some of their holiday secrets.  You ready to see some secrets?  Want to see how some of the stuff is made?  You think -- are you ready for that?

      CHILDREN:  Yes.

      MRS. OBAMA:  Wait, wait, are you ready for that?

      CHILDREN:  Yes!

      MRS. OBAMA:  Okay, well, parents, you guys can stay here.  I know, they’ll be fine.  (Laughter.)  And breathe a little bit.  And we should bring you some eggnog or something.  (Laughter.)  But kids, if you stand up and follow these guys, right, they’re going to take you over to the room.  I’ll come and meet you guys over there.  And you can learn some of the secrets of how we do things here at the White House.  Okay?  Everybody march.  We’re marching.

      All right, we’ll see you guys over there.

                        END           12:44 P.M. EST

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