Most of us never get to take the White House Holiday Tour. Luckily, one of our very own Reston residents, Alisa Ades, was able to score exclusive passes and snap some pics with her iPhone to share with us.
The process for obtaining passes for this tour is rather complicated. Requests must be submitted through your state’s congressmen up to six months in advance. (State specific contact information can be found here.) Alisa’s mother sent an email to Harry Reid, her home state of Nevada’s Senator. An assistant replied quickly asking for proper identification documents (driver’s licenses, social security numbers, etc.) for everyone in their party. Once those were reviewed, they received approval and a reservation within about three weeks. Even Alisa’s 7 year old daughter needed a valid photo ID, in this case she used a passport.
Once at the White House, Alisa and her family passed through FOUR security checkpoints before finally entering. No bags of any kind, cameras or strollers were allowed. However, phones ARE allowed for the Holiday Tour.
The theme for this year’s display is “A Children’s Winter Wonderland” and was chosen by the First Lady. It celebrates the pureness of the holidays as seen through the eyes of children. 300+ volunteers donated their time to set up the display starting as early as the day after Thanksgiving. Each room was designed by Chief White House Floral Designer Laura Dowling and her team.
The White House Holiday Tour is self-guided and guests are free to move along the path at their own pace. Alisa reported that the tour took about 20-25 minutes to stroll through.
When I asked Alisa what her favorite part of the tour was she described the China Room and it’s amazing display of over 200 years of china sets used by first families. She also couldn’t get over the trees, “There were just SO MANY TREES! Some were huge, at least three times as large as ours at home.” She also loved that you could send a postcard to a friend postmarked from the White House as you entered.
Guests are given an illustrated booklet that describes each room’s decor as well as providing kids with a scavenger hunt. Alisa’s daughter, Sophia, particularly liked the animated replicas of the Obama’s dogs, Bo and Sunny, in the East Garden Room.
The Blue Room is the centerpiece of the tour, sporting an 18 foot tree with decor inspired but the song “America the Beautiful.” Alisa’s mother, Verna, found the photos of national landmarks and ornaments dedicated to U.S. servicemen and women very moving.
“Just being in such a historically important building celebrating peace and love for the holidays is incredibly special.”
The animated First Dogs are not the only high-tech additions to this year’s tour. The White House has propelled itself into the digital age with motion sensors and interactive lighting displays. The Washington Post describes the addition of these special features to the holiday tour in this article.
This year was also the first ever 3D Printed Ornament Challenge in partnership with the Smithsonian. You can read about that here.
For more photos of the tour, check out HGTV’s photo gallery.