- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 8, 2002

The holiday season is observed with grace and style at the White House. It's a celebration shaped by the times and is a reflection of the taste of the first lady.

By design, Christmas at the White House is a very public event, a weeks-long soiree around the Ellipse that illuminates the hope and peace the season symbolizes. Even amid the restrictions based on post-September 11 security concerns, the local community and visitors have received an invitation to attend.
This year, first lady Laura Bush has tapped the theme "All Creatures Great and Small" to honor the pets that presidents and their families have enjoyed over the years. The White House display features papier-mache replicas of 25 first-family pets, from an alligator given to John Quincy Adams by the Marquis de Lafayette to the current Bush family pets, dogs Barney and Spot and cat India.
The 18-foot noble fir in the Blue Room, the official White House Christmas tree, is festooned with nearly 400 bird ornaments crafted by artists from across the country in recognition of the species indigenous to the artists' home states.
This Christmas, as during last year's holiday season, White House tours are open only for school and military groups, explains Alexia Poe, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Bush's office. Nevertheless, those not lucky enough to get a pass to pad through the White House corridors for a firsthand look still can experience the event.
"A lot of folks remember when there were open tours all the time at the White House," Ms. Poe says. "While that's not the case today, everyone can come to the White House Visitor Center and get a taste of Christmas at the White House."
Located at the north end of the Department of Commerce on Pennsylvania Avenue, the Visitor Center is decorated for the holidays to reflect the theme of the White House. Photographs detail the special adornment of each room within the mansion, and the exhibits feature a number of the bird ornaments as well as replicas of several first-family pets.
There's Barney the Scottish terrier, who was a birthday present from the president to Mrs. Bush a few years ago. There's also Pauline Wayne, the last cow to live at the White House. Pauline, the personal milk source for the 27th president, William Howard Taft, spent her days grazing on the White House lawn.
Meandering out of the center, visitors can continue their self-guided tour to the displays of the Christmas Pageant of Peace, which Bill Line, a spokesman for the National Park Service in the National Capital Region, calls "a premiere event of the entire year."
Located on the northeast quadrant of the Ellipse, just south of the White House, the pageant display includes the National Christmas Tree, lit in a grand ceremony during the first week of December each year for the past 79 years. The tree dwarfs 56 smaller trees, each decorated with ornaments that commemorate either one of the 50 states, the five trust territories or the District.
Every night of the week, save Dec. 24 and 25, church and youth choirs ranging from the Homeschool Family Band of Manassas to the Buttons & Bellows Accordion Band of Alexandria bring their music to the stage next to the National Tree. The performances represent the opportunity for various groups to express their feelings about the holiday season and their country, says Mr. Line, giving them a forum near the White House to help others in the area to get into the holiday spirit and mood.
"The theme of peace transcends each year," Mr. Line says. "We hope and believe that it will set the tone and image of peace in this country for the holiday season."

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