TALKING IT OVER
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
"What can I say? I'm a Christmasaholic," admits Lakewood, Ohio, florist
Bill Hixson, explaining why he has traveled to Washington each of the past 19
years to help decorate the White House for Christmas.
Bill is just one of several dozen volunteer "elves" who, under the
direction of the White House Chief Florist Nancy Clarke, take time out of their
own busy schedules each year to help ready the White House for the holiday
season. Linda Cain, a floral designer from Arkansas, who decorated the
Governor's Mansion when we lived there, has come each year since 1993, our
first Christmas here.
Eddie Gage, a florist and designer from Nashua, N.H., who has come every
year since 1973, holds the distinction of being the longest-serving elf. He
remembers that it was President and Mrs. Nixon who first invited volunteers to
help bring the magic of Christmas to the White House.
Eddie recalls that, in the early years, the decorations consisted mainly
of magnolia leaves and candles. Today, the official White House Christmas tree
alone, an 18 1/2-foot Noble fir that stands in the Blue Room, boasts 1,411
ornaments and 10,500 lights. There are 37 other trees in the house and on the
grounds, 1,120 feet of garland, and 324 wreaths gracing the windows and
colonnades -- all of which are constructed and put into place by the volunteers
who work feverishly for four days in early December.
I, like Bill Hixson, am a "Christmasaholic." I love everything about the
season. But even I was taken aback when, early in 1993, shortly after my
husband's first inauguration, members of my staff sat down with me to begin
planning for the holidays -- still almost a year away.
Choosing a theme is always the first order of business. One of the most
closely guarded secrets in Washington, the theme is never disclosed until the
day after the decorating is finished, when we invite members of the press in
for a preview. I am particularly pleased with our choice this year -- "Holiday
Treasures at the White House." Not only are we celebrating treasured holiday
traditions from years gone by, but we are also honoring the many historic sites
and artifacts that we are working to save as part of the White House Millennium
Council's Save America's Treasures project.
For months, craftsmen and tinsmiths from across the country have been
busy creating their impressions of the best of our rich national heritage. Now,
gracing our wreaths and trees, the finished ornaments range from miniature
Revere lanterns to candlesticks, Windsor chairs and hooked rugs -- one
depicting many of the White House pets. Dollmakers have crafted original
ornaments depicting significant historic figures, including Benjamin Franklin,
Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks, and Franklin and Eleanor
Mantel and tabletop decorations portray just some of the historic sites
that, with the help of the Save America's Treasures program, will be preserved
for future generations. As visitors enter the White House, one of the first
trees they see is adorned with representations of some of these sites, from the
Ellis Island Ferry Building and the Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and
Heritage, to Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis-Brown House, Ebenezer Baptist Church
and the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum.
Over the past 18 months, I have visited many of these sites in an effort
to raise awareness and the resources necessary to preserve our nation's
irreplaceable heritage. The menorah in the West Wing Lobby is modeled after the
historic Breed Street Shul in Los Angeles. Commissioned by the Jewish
Historical Society of Southern California, it commemorates my visit there last
year, one of the stops on my second "Save America's Treasures Tour."
In keeping with the Holiday Treasures theme, White House Pastry Chef
Roland Mesnier has outdone himself yet again with a gingerbread tribute to some
of the treasures found in and around our nation's capital. Using 120 pounds of
gingerbread, over 50 pounds of marzipan and 40 pounds of chocolate, Roland and
his assistants have created a masterful depiction of the White House, the
Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument (complete with blinking, red
aircraft-warning lights) and Mount Vernon. In keeping with recent tradition,
the careful observer will find Socks and Buddy cavorting around the White
Whether they were carried here by our immigrant ancestors, or are part
of our native heritage, our traditions represent the true spirit of America.
From trimming evergreen Christmas trees, to lighting the candles of the
menorah, we have welcomed these customs into our hearts, and adapted them to
our families. Today, they have become treasured aspects of our national
This holiday season, my wish for you is that the reflections on the
treasures of our past will bring a renewed spirit of peace and joy in the
millennium to come.
Happy Holidays, everyone.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past
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