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5:56 am
Sat December 3, 2011

Decking The Halls: A White House Tradition

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 8:13 am

A group of more than 100 volunteers helped decorate the White House this year, covering the mansion in Christmas trees, cookie ornaments and several versions of the Obamas' dog, Bo. The real stars, however, were the military families who joined the celebration.

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The White House has many holiday traditions. One is that volunteers from around the country decorate the White House in the days after Thanksgiving. Well, on this program we have a related tradition. For the second year in a row, at least, NPR's Ari Shapiro brings us the voices of some of those decorators.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC AND GREETINGS)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Good morning. Welcome. Good morning.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Good morning. Good morning.

JOSE POLONKO: My name is Jose Polonko(ph), from Rhode Island. And I'm here with my dad.

PEDRO POLONKO: Mi nombre Pedro Polonko.

JOSE POLONKO: My dad's 91. He's always wanted to visit the White House so I had applied on his behalf.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Did your father know that you had applied?

JOSE POLONKO: No. I actually surprised him right till the end.

SHAPIRO: Well, you have a wonderful son to do that for you.

JOSE POLONKO: (Foreign language spoken)

PEDRO POLONKO: Gracias. (Foreign language spoken)

JOSE POLONKO: He says, thank you. He gives me thanks and he well, prays to God that I have a good life.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DENISE INGLE: I'm Denise Ingle from Charlotte, North Carolina, and I've had a son in the military for 18 years. I've only had one Christmas with him, so Christmas has been, you know, a little on the sad side. And the last time I saw him was a year ago, when my husband died. So my friend contacted the White House. She wanted to give something back to me. And you know what? I did get that little bit of shine back. Sewing the buttons on the tree skirt in there for the military, that was close to my heart. Watching the chefs bring in the gingerbread house - oh, my gosh, that was thrilling.

BILL YOSSES: My name is Bill Yosses. I'm the executive pastry chef at the White House.

SHAPIRO: And last year you told me that the gingerbread White House that we're looking at seems to get heavier and heavier every year. Does this year surpass last year's?

YOSSES: It doesn't surpass in weight. It may surpass in complexity, though. But one reason that it's lighter is that we opened up two more of the rooms. The green room and the red room we opened, in the sense that now you can look into them. There's the lighted chandelier in there, and we re-created furniture, in marzipan and chocolate, of each of those rooms.

DAVID BARTOSHUCK: David Bartoshuk(ph), Denver, Colorado.

SHAPIRO: And tell me how you ended up here, decorating the White House for the holidays.

BARTOSHUCK: Well, 15 years ago I was homeless, and I saw Martha Stewart with then-first lady Hillary Clinton in a White House special, and I decided that's something I'd love to do. So I stayed in school, and I watched Martha Stewart every single day, and started sending pictures of my events and my tablescapes to the White House, and this last August got an acceptance letter.

SHAPIRO: That's amazing. How did you feel when you heard that you'd been accepted?

BARTOSHUCK: There was some screaming. There was some crying. And I ultimately have attained my goal.

SHAPIRO: And now that this dream has come true for you, what's next?

BARTOSHUCK: Martha Stewart in New York, if you're listening, here I come.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: The voices of White House volunteer decorators; the music by Russell Wilson of the U.S. Marine Band.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.