Decorating the White House for Christmas 2019 with Linda Dutile // Season 5, Episode 9

Jaclyn Humble: Welcome or welcome back to the Millennial Homemakers Podcast. We are so very excited about our guest today and just the topic in general. I just can’t believe that we found someone who actually participated in decorating the White House this year.

Jackie Alexander: We were scouring the internet and trying to email the White House Social Secretary, just looking for anybody that would be willing to talk to us.

JH: When did I first come to you with this idea? September?

JA: It was right around the application deadline, so September sounds right.

JH: So I came to Jackie with this idea, and then we started emailing everyone we could find. We sent cold emails to the Social Secretary and the White House Historical Society.

JA: The White House Historical Association told us flat out, “We don’t really do anything with the decorations except chronicle them.” Which at least they responded to us. I was excited about that.

JH: And I buy ornaments from them every year. So I figured they were kind of involved, but I guess not.

JA: I thought they played a bigger role because it is a historical building. So, you’d think that they’d be involved somehow, but I guess, like they said, they just chronicle it because it’s becoming history.

History of Christmas at the White House

JH: And Linda talks a lot about that when we get to our interview with her. But before we get into all that – Jackie always comes in with some history knowledge. So hit us with a little bit of the history of how long we’ve been decorating the White House.

JA: When Jaclyn and I started talking about this, we assumed that it always happened. But like any tradition, it evolves and changes. The first time that we know that at least part of the White House was decorated was in 1894 with President Cleveland. They just had a family tree, which was the first tree in the White House that used electric Christmas lights. There were red, white, and blue lights on the tree. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt and First Lady Edith Roosevelt started hosting a carnival during the Christmas season for the local children.

JH: Is that when he gave everybody teddy bears?

JA: It does say they give the kids souvenirs.

JH: Isn’t that where the term teddy bear comes from?

JA: I know that he’s related to teddy bears somehow, But I don’t know if he gave them away for Christmas.

JH: I feel like that’s it.

JA: That would be fantastic.

JH: I also feel like with anything we talk about ever-changing traditions is the consumerism and the commercialized aspect of Christmas, which is negative. But if we get more in the Christmas spirit, is it a positive?

JA: It’s a very fine line. Anyway, the White House Christmas decorating as we know it today was started by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. She was the first to pick a theme, which is now part of this great tradition where the First Lady chooses a theme every year and is responsible for executing that theme. Linda talks more about that. I learned a whole lot talking with her so that I won’t give anything away.

JH: Yes, the interview’s great. If you are American, everyone has different feelings about who’s in the White House at any given point in time. We just want to encourage you to listen to this episode and appreciate the traditions that go into decorating the White House and its master execution. We have the best of the best working with whoever the First Lady is at any given point in time. They work with great event coordinators and interior designers to come up with the theme and to reflect America. And it is called the People’s House for a reason, so it just represents American pride and our national treasure, if you will. Jackie and I were talking about it because it’s always cool to see the White House Christmas decorations. After all, they pick a theme, starting with Jackie O, as Jackie was saying.

JA: Which was Nutcracker, by the way.

JA: Oh, it would be. I love her. That makes me so happy. So it’s taking that Christmas spirit, but then infusing another theme on top of it. So, sure, Jacqueline Kennedy did Nutcracker, but she also, I’m sure, had red, white, and blue, a bald eagle, roses, all these things that are American symbols within Christmas. This is something that you can do in your own Christmas decor by incorporating elements that mean something to your family. Like Jackie, she uses the Stuart tartan, a very popular Christmas tartan, but she goes out of her way to find that pattern because it’s her family’s history in England.

JA: Scotland. I guess they were eventually British because James VI became the King of England and Scotland.

JH: I think of Mary Queen of Scots. She was a Stuart, right?

JA: Yes. Supposedly I’m related to her, but I don’t have proof.

JH: Well, it’s always fun. Then, going back to my roots, trying to incorporate Swedish things like St. Lucia, cranberries, different things that are very traditionally Swedish Christmas decor into my Christmas decorations, which aren’t easy to find, by the way.

JA: I love St. Lucia’s Day, so I’m so sad that that’s not more prevalent.

JH: No, it’s so hard to find. My mom has the cutest St. Lucia doll, but all the ones I find online are really expensive, and they’re kids’ dolls. They’re not decor dolls, you know.

JA: For the American Girl Kirsten, I used to have her St. Lucia toy. I have no idea where that is. I know where Kirsten is, but not her St. Lucia stuff.

JH: That’s something that I tried to incorporate into my decor. It’s just interesting to look at the White House decorations. When you look at the decor, pay attention to the details, and look for the hidden symbols, which Linda kind of goes into. And I just think it’ll be really, really inspirational and encouraging and just very fun. And this is something that people flock to from all over the country. I don’t know if internationally – if they have an opportunity to go and visit. I know that for us, we have to go through our Senator or someone in government to even get on the list to tour the White House, especially during Christmas. I think it’s exclusive. It would be our dream to be able to volunteer for this. And Linda goes more into how she was chosen. I think we should get to the interview. We hope that you enjoy it because this is my favorite Christmas episode that we’ve ever done.

JA: I 100% agree with that. Seriously, neither of us say very much during the whole interview because we’re so intent.

JH: I had to wipe the drool from my face because I was just sitting there, salivating at the thoughts of all the decor. Anyway, enjoy the episode.

JH: After some technical difficulties, here we are. Linda, welcome to the show and let’s jump into the interview.

Why did you want to help decorate the White House for Christmas?

JA: Absolutely. So Linda, why did you want to help decorate the White House for Christmas?

Linda Dutile: I had a childhood where Christmas and the true spirit of Christmas – of giving back to the community – came into play. I was born and raised with those values, And I come from a military family, which is also a strong factor in my life. And, to be very honest, I’ve been applying on and off for about 22 years. This opportunity came to me, and it’s the perfect combination of serving my country – serving People’s House – in the way I know how to give back to the community during Christmas. And the home we grew up in was one of those homes that people would come from far and wide to see inside and out. So it just was a natural fit, I think. And I definitely revere the spirit of Christmas.

Can you share a little bit about the volunteer application process?

JH: That’s awesome. It sounds like you’re the perfect person for the job! Can you share a little bit about the volunteer application process? And how long it took you to learn that you’d been accepted? Then, did you have to go through interviews? Give us all the juice.

LD: The big scoop is that back in the day – and this is kind of important – there was no application process. I used to write to the chief florist and to the Social Secretary of the First Lady, whoever was in office. Please understand, for me, this is not political. This is what I’ve always always wanted to do. And so you keep writing, and through the years, the application process has changed. This year, as in the past few years, it has been an online application with an essay. You go through a skills assessment. Then you get through security clearance, and then you’re still kind of in limbo. They do tell you you’ve made it to the next round. Up until this year, I had never cleared to the next round. Sometimes you would never hear anything, and sometimes you would get a “Thank you, but no thank you, not this year.” So then you pass the security clearance and one random day in November, poof, the email comes.

It’s harder in the sense that I never made it to the grounds before, as more and more people found out more and more people would apply. So last year, there were 8,000 applicants. The number hasn’t come out this year, but I can tell you it was more than 8,000, and only 120 were selected by lottery. You need the skillset and the background. Mrs. Trump has put the priority on the skillset and the military aspect of it. So I think that got me on the shortlist, but you’re still in a lottery system. The essay is important. And then you just wait and, suddenly, one day on a random Friday, it appeared. So I was in shock.

JH: Was it snail mail then or email?

LD: Email. It’s more instant gratification that way. There’s nothing tangible either.

JH: I would have printed it.

JA: I probably would too. And I would frame that.

JH: So for the skills assessment, was it a short answer, or was it send pictures of your work? What was that like?

LD: A combination of both. I am not technically a florist, but I do have a skillset. I’ve always done special events, coordinating, all those sorts of things. Within the body of the application form, it said, “Is there anything else?” They do ask if you have a website of your work if you work somewhere that’s not your own shop or something like that that you can show. So I sent a few pictures of some previous work.

JA: I knew it would be an intense process, especially because there are so many background checks that I’m sure they have to go through. You are up and personal in the White House, in places where a lot of people don’t necessarily get to go. But I guess I never thought about the skillset aspect of it, but that really makes a difference because t is the People’s House. So it does need to be our best foot forward. And so that is putting that priority there.

LD: And maybe this is the right time to share that perfection is the word. They will inspect your work to the nano. I mean they are fanatical. And when I say perfection – to the point where the ornaments get lost, or they go on the tree. Wrapping, wiring, putting bulbs. New. Everything is new. And they get washed. And I thought that was the epitome of perfection. I thought that was so telling.

JH: I was wondering too – do you think that for some people who maybe exaggerated their skills, do you think that they redo stuff? Or could you kind of tell that perhaps they would be assigned to a task and then would put them somewhere else?

LD: Correct. Yes, they will pull you. They will. And very graciously. They will say, “I could really use help over here.” In the opposite direction, I will say that they notice if you’re shining in one area – like there’s a lot of paper crafter. All the stars, the roses on the tree in the Blue Room, were all made by one designer. Everything in the Green Room that was book-related was all crafted.

JH: Oh, my goodness. I’m like drooling.

JA: I’ve always had respect for the White House Christmas decorations and the volunteers involved, but that gives me a whole new level of respect for just how much care and precision goes into every little detail.

LD: And I will say, everyone working was trying their best. We were all on the same page. Everyone was so supportive, and we laughed and helped each other. “Oh my gosh, can you believe I glued this backward?” or “Why can I not get four layers of ribbon to make this beautiful bow?” The daily struggles, if you will, just like real life. Things like, “I can’t get my fingers to work today. What’s wrong?” We just helped each other. It’s the comradery that probably many people have not seen in this way. No competition. It’s not a competition at all. It’s all about the end product. The end display and everything being perfect.

Everyone was so supportive, and we laughed and helped each other. Linda Dutile

JA: Oh, I love that. Especially since there are people from all walks of life, and so it really is a glimpse of America at its best, even if that’s only for a very short time.

LD: Absolutely. It is the longest and the shortest and the most intense four days of your life. It’s a 10-hour day very easily, but you’re running on adrenaline, and it’s okay. Nobody minds.

How much information did you have before you arrived?

JA: Knowing that you found out in November, which is definitely later than I would have thought, how much information did you have before you arrived? Did you know anything about the theme? Or what you would be doing? Or was that left until you got there?

LD: You’re given a dress code. Let me back up. This did come at the very end of October. So the first thing you want is to book your flight. But it was nice because you didn’t have time, too much time to panic either. So what you do get is in the very first email of information is “Congratulations.” And then, another email comes with all your security clearances, and then you get another email that then says, “Here’s what you need to know the basics.” And so that’s where you find out the dress code, the hotel. This particular year was at the Kimpton Monaco, and they have a block of rooms, and they have transportation provided. You do not have to stay there. Many people did not.

I chose to because I just wanted it that way for simplicity’s sake. And I wanted that whole experience to be in one package if you will. I wanted to stay in the bubble. That’s what I called it. I wanted to stay in the Christmas bubble. And then you get your attire. It tells you what you can and what you cannot bring, what will be provided, what will not. They provide breakfast and a warm lunch every day. Both were delicious. You are very, very well attended to. The next email comes with the itinerary for each day of your service, of your tenure. So you meet in the lobby, board the bus at 6:00 AM. On the first day, you arrive earlier. You go to a room and get your clearances again. You have to sign many waivers.

You have to sign a nondisclosure agreement. We’re past that part. And then you get your credentials, get your badge, get an apron, and then head off to the warehouse, which is in a pretty nondescript location, and it’s a very secure location. And then, you are given your assignment once you’re there. You are not told anything prior. When you arrive at the warehouse, you have one of your first of many meetings, and you get the lay of the land. You get the rules of being in the warehouse – all the things you need to know to function and function safely. They then tell you the theme. You’re assigned a team, and it’s written on your badge. So then you break up into your teams, and then you start in with making the preparations to start your tasks.

JH: What is the dress code? I’m curious.

LD: Business casual. You want to wear slacks. No jeans. They were like, no black jeans, no leggings. They want a professional environment. Although I just want to say, it is a little awkward because I’m not wearing business clothes when I’m creating.

JA: Me neither. Especially depending on what’s involved, I’m usually pretty casual.

LD: Exactly. And when you’re on the floor, doing tasks on the cement floor and thinking, “I dressed up for this?” It’s out of respect.

What was your assignment?

JH: What was your assignment? I tried not to look at too much of the stuff because when I Facebook friend you, I was like, “I want to hear it from her. I get to talk to her, so I’m going to save it.” So I don’t know anything.

LD: The Tree of Valor is probably the tree that I’m most proud to have worked on because that meant an awful lot. And then in the East Room, all the red ornaments that you see with the new ribbons attached and pretty much everything there, my hands have touched at some point. And then we were responsible for the Green, Blue, and Red Rooms. But what happened was from the East Room, I then got deployed down to the Vermeil Room, and I must say that it is beautiful. If you look at the mantle, I think that’s my favorite. So I will just let you enjoy the mantle and the trees. I did a lot of stringing lights, and I will tell you that there are millions of lights. What people don’t realize is what you see, what is being presented is, yes, it’s a large portion for the public. But you have to remember that the entire private residence and all the offices, every single room – there are 120 rooms – and every single room has a touch – whether it’s poinsettias or a greenery display. Those private areas or the non-public areas are attended to by the staff, the White House staff themselves.

JH: Right. Probably for security reasons.

JA: Yeah, that’s a whole other level of background checks.

LD: Absolutely. You know where you can and cannot go. But it’s extremely surreal that once you get to the White House, you just have free reign of this magical, incredible historical place – this museum. It’s a living museum and breathtaking, and it just stops you in your tracks when you first arrive. And I’ve never had the luxury or the privilege to go there until now.

JH: I just looked at it from outside. I haven’t taken a tour. That’s something that I’d love to do. And at Christmas time.

JA: I honestly can’t remember if I’ve taken a tour, but the last time I was in DC, I was 13, so even if I did, I don’t think I would have respected it the way I would now.

JH: It was too close to 9/11, Jackie. So we weren’t allowed to take tours when we were there.

JA: Oh, you’re right, you were with me.

JH: Yes, when we were in eighth grade.

LD: Someone shared photographs with me of Marine One landing on the South Lawn picking up Mr. And Mrs. Trump to go over to England. And there are some amazing shots of that that I will share on Facebook for everyone only because it was so up close. When you’re in the Green Room and the Red Room, you’re looking right out onto where the helicopter lands. It’s very majestic, very majestic.

Is there anything that you were just blown away by or really stood out to you?

JA: You’ve already answered part of this. Is there anything that we did not see in videos and press pictures that you were just blown away by or really stood out to you?

LD: The magnitude is what stood out to me. The sheer size, the regalness. And just everyone treating it with such care. When you are in there, the staff treat you like gold. They are so kind to you, and they are so welcoming because this is their work environment, their home. And instead of, “Be careful. Don’t move that. Don’t touch that. And God forbid, don’t tell anyone that Linda sat on a couch that she wasn’t supposed to by accident.” The graciousness of everyone there, what I just expected, maybe, “Oh, here they come.” And like, “Oh God, we’ve got to deal with them again.” It was nothing like that. And I was in complete awe. There was a surreal moment where I’m literally sitting on the floor under the John F. Kennedy portrait. The very famous one where he’s very pensive, and I’m like, “Is this really happening? Why am I sitting on the White House floor? What are you doing? Get up!” And you’re working, you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, and you just keep looking around and thinking, “Is this real? Is this really happening?”

JH: I’m so glad that we got to interview you so fresh off because it’s good to record all your thoughts.

LD: I can still barely keep the thoughts from coming out. And I’m sorry if I am maybe jumping around or anything like that. I just wish I would’ve had a body cam.

Did you learn about any White House decorating traditions?

JH: Did you learn about any White House decorating traditions? Anything that maybe the Social Secretary does or something that all the volunteers get to participate in? I saw that there was a holiday reception or something, I think you had left by that point, but I didn’t know about any of that. What kind of traditions are there?

Listen: Christmas Traditions from the Millennial Homemakers Community

LD: Traditions, some things that people don’t know. The First Lady is completely in charge of everything that happens to the White House at Christmas. So it is her vision, her oversight. She works with an incredible team. Nick Watts heads up, HMR Productions, and they were the ones that we worked under, but he and Mrs. Trump worked together. He gets her ideas and makes them logistically a reality. Going back to each First Lady, they can set rules, if you will, going forward. For example, it was Mrs. Laura Bush, who instituted the gingerbread house. The first year was kind of a test drive, and by the end of her tenure, she was like, “Every year there will be a gingerbread house.” And every year it’s morphed and grown and taken on that role.

LD: Simple things – for many, many years, I want to say I heard in the 50-year range, but I could be wrong about that. There’s a cranberry tree that was given to one of the First Ladies by a dignitary, and she wanted that tradition to continue. Every year in a given room, and it can be in any room, but you will find the cranberry tree. There’s all those, and they’re not necessarily publicized or talked about, but it’s a way that the First Lady can ensure she kind of leaves her mark, a gracious little mark that says, “this will endure in perpetuity.” Then getting back to the reception, every First Lady, because this is her job, no one can see or speak of the decorating process for anything about the theme or anything until she sees it first. And it’s usually always on Sunday after the holiday weekend

And normally they are away because it’s just so much chaos and commotion. So they come back, and it is revealed to her with the Social Secretary and the design team. She then gives her blessing or any amendments they have overnight to rectify. Then it’s her task to reveal it to the country to say, “Here you are. Merry Christmas. The People’s Home”. So it has always been a tradition that the people who volunteer and actually create it, get to see it first. And it’s her way; it’s the First Lady’s way of saying thank you for all the hard work. And again, it’s your own expense, so they’re always very mindful of your contribution in a very practical way – time away from family, people traveling, flying in literally from Alaska, California. It’s a costly endeavor to undertake.

It’s a huge grand reveal. A very prideful moment for everyone. And if I ever have the luxury or the privilege to return, I will figure out a way to go back for the reception because I realized, now that I’ve seen everyone’s photographs and video, I missed out on something. However, I am beyond blessed and grateful for my time, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. If you get selected and can only do the first half, as I did, it’s okay. You won’t be sorry. You won’t be disappointed at all. Not at all.

Were there any volunteers or staff members that had decorated the White House before?

JA: And speaking of having the privilege to return. Were there any other volunteers or staff members that had been involved in decorating before there?

LD: Yes. One of the reasons I didn’t get chosen in those middle years of my writing to the florist, writing to the Social Secretary, was because just their staff was doing it first. And then, as it started to grow and evolve, there was no turnover throughout each First Lady. Nope. They would get a spot, and they wouldn’t give it up. And so for a good while, I want to say at least ten years, that had a lot to do with why I was never able to get it. And they only had a few volunteers as well. So people wouldn’t give up their slots. And I cannot speak to previous First Ladies; I can only speak for Mrs. Trump because this is my year. What I’ve experienced from conversations from the last two years during her tenure thus far, she’s the one that has opened it to, not as many volunteers as you can get, but to a manageable amount. And her focus is on military family and skillset because she believes that’s what is needed.

LD: Absolutely. Again, it’s just an involved process, and I’m sure going forward, it will continue in that way depending on what conditions occur in our world or here in the home front. It’s just going to be a moving target, so to speak.

Did you get to meet the First Lady?

JH: So did you get to meet the First Lady? You touched on how involved she was in the decorating, but do you have any specific stories about what she wanted this year or something?

LD: Because I was not at the reception, I did not get to meet her. I’ll post a video of her welcome speech and her thank you speech to everyone because someone shared that with me. Her whole focus is on red, white, and blue. Red for blood and valor and courage. White for peace and grace. And blue for steadfastness and strength. That’s really what she wants. She wants that message of everything that is good and right about our country to be brought forward. So probably every year in her tenure, it will be a form of red, white, and blue, Spirit of America, Good Bless America, everything that has to do with us as Americans. I can tell you – she’s very family-oriented and very family-focused and driven. And so the Green Room has on the mantle, the 12 days of Christmas.

JH: I saw that! My mom loves the 12 Days of Christmas. She has so many ornaments and all her decor, her tablecloth, salad plates, everything’s 12 Days of Christmas. So, that made my heart so happy! I loved that.

LD: The theme for that room really is family game night, family time. I hope you will all be able to find the antique backgammon boards and checkerboards in our displays. And that’s why you’ll see playing cards and Scrabble pieces that say her BE BEST campaign and all those kinds of things. So there’s meaning to everything. Some hidden and some that mean something to her that we’re not privy to. If you see all the roses and over the mantle in the State Dining Room, that is our national flower, our national symbol. And then you’ll see the two bald eagles, two golden eagles on top of the trees. Alongside the mantle, also think of the Kentucky Derby blanket of roses – what that says, what that symbolizes. Each room has many, many nuances to it.

What were some of the most memorable moments or stories from your experience?

JA: I know that the whole experience was surreal and once in a lifetime. But what were some of the most memorable moments or stories from your experience?

LD: I think one that really stands out. This is just a personal experience now; I can only share this one. It was rather embarrassing. I, AKA Cinderella, lost her shoe in the White House. My shoe actually broke. I’m climbing the stairs. I’m going up to the grand foyer to Cross Hall, and my shoe is falling apart. And I’m like, “what is happening?” You realize while you’re walking, something’s not right. You’re scuffing the floor. And keep in mind all the floors are covered. I didn’t think anything of it until I almost tripped and almost fell into the Secret Service. So I start laughing. And I looked down at my feet, and the whole heel and sole of my shoe were just about gone. So me being me, I just take my shoes off and walk through the White House in my socks. And I’m like, this is not good. So I went, and I found a glue gun, and I stuck it back on.

JA: But how many people can say that they walked around the White House in their stocking feet?

LD: I was like, “Well, this is alright because when I’m home, I take my shoes off, so respectful.” But I literally just walked across to the Red Room to where the glue guns were, and I asked if I could borrow one. And we had a good laugh. And then I just walked back to where I was supposed to be, and then I just carried on. And then, someone asked if I was alright. I said, “Yeah, I’m perfectly fine.” And she said, “Do you have other shoes?” Well, I had my sneakers because I was leaving from the White House and had packed a change of clothes to fly home at the midnight hour. I’m not flying home in dress clothes. She goes, “Why don’t you go get changed? It’s okay. We would prefer you to change your shoes.” I went off to the coatroom by the State Room and deposited by broken shoes in the garbage at the White House.

That’s a memorable story. I can tell you that people really want, they have it in their head that they want to do certain tasks and then they kind of get “what do you mean I can’t do that?” The leaders are hard and fast that you cannot accelerate through until everything is done for day one and day two and lunchtime. And everything’s broken down because they need to stay on track timewise. And so one of my friends, bless her heart, she wanted so badly to decorate the garland, and I believe ultimately she did some. Here we are, she’s going around putting on the lights on the garland, and she was happier than a clam, and she was like, “Okay, good. Now can we break open the boxes?”

We couldn’t. You have to finish lighting every tree before you move forward. Back at the warehouse, you have to tie every ornament with its one, two, three, or four ribbons with the new wiring, and it has to be cleaned and has to be packaged. It doesn’t matter. Everything has a schedule.

JH: Were you at the warehouse in the morning and the White House in the afternoon? Or warehouse for the first two days and then the White House?

LD: We were six teams. I was on Team Jingle.

JH: Okay. I love that!

LD: Let me see. Jingle, Sprinkles, Tinkle, Frosty, Holly, and Berry, so those were the team.

JA: That’s so fun.

LD: We were all at the warehouse on the first day. And then, on the second day, four teams were chosen to go directly to the White House. My team was not one of them. However, the four teams that were at the White house – Holly, Berry, Sprinkle, and Frosty – they had to string lights all day long. You’re feeling bummed that you didn’t get to go to the White House, but this is where we really got to be creative. I made a couple of red topiaries – two were shown in one of the photographs, one on each side of Mrs. Bush, her portrait. And then other ones are in the private quarters, up in the other areas.

But so this is where you kind of got to be like, “It’s okay. I’m doing something creative.” It was a balance. It was fine. Because we finished our tasks ahead of schedule on Tuesday, they kept us there, and they treated us to a little snack and said, “keep working.” But you could tell the pace and the tension were coming down. We headed back to our hotel around 5 or 6 o’clock like we were supposed to, but what they announced was then instead of our teams just going over half a day on Wednesday, we actually were allowed to go the entire day. And we were so excited. So this, for me personally, was like the perfect combination. And I will tell you it’s mandatory -everyone strings lights. And I will say that it is not an easy task. I don’t know if you all know how to string lights appropriately in a florist way.

JA: No, definitely not.

LD: So what you do is start at the center of the tree at the bottom or the top. I tend to work from your bottom up. It’s just everyone’s choice, whatever you prefer. But what you do is start at the center, at the trunk, and then take one strand and wrap it around each branch coming out towards you – the one branch in front of you. You do all its arms coming out, and you wrap them going back in. So every branch, the main artery, and then all its veining are wrapped twice, at least twice. Then you go to the next branch and do the same thing.

JH: I’m going to make my husband listen to this. I’m going to tell him, “Look, honey, you have it easy.

LD: I’ve been doing trees this way. And it comes from when I was younger. I mean, we’ve always done our trees this way. And when I look at a tree – ( don’t care how people do them, it’s their house – it’s their way. I just know how I’ve always done it. It’s the way I was taught. So that’s just what I do. But it’s time-consuming. When you have a hundred volunteers on Wednesday in the White House, well, we were probably 75 on Wednesday. And everyone is stringing lights. It’s all hands on deck. The staff are so good – they have the Christmas carols playing, and they make it enjoyable. They make it fun. Mrs. Trump is very budget-conscious. She always has been, and she’s always looking to be conscientious.

Many of the decorations are recycled, which a lot of people don’t realize, like the ornaments. And that way you’re only buying new wire, glue sticks, and new ribbon because of course, you want to change it for the theme and that sort of thing. So this year her priority was to cut down on electricity, that sort of thing. Every light got converted from a standard little light to LED, and they’re still the warm white. That was one way she wanted to make things better going forward. Now because the White House is overseen or taken care of by a curator and staff at the National Park Service because this is a living, breathing museum. They are ever-present every time you turn the corner.

And they are fantastic. But they used to be the ones that had to do the lights. Of course, that was a big expense because that’s all those hours that country is paying for. So Mrs. Trump – God bless her heart – I think this was brilliant. She was like, “Well, let’s bring in a few more volunteers and let them do it.” She could open it up to more volunteers, which was fantastic, but also it was being a wise custodian of resources. However, I went back, and I was looking through photographs of previous administrations. And you can tell, if you just go online in public domains and whatnot, you can see, there are a few photographs, where the wires are just sticking out, the lights are just kind of laid on the tree, or they’re just poked in there. The Park Service has been cursing the decorators for the last three years because the trees were not lit this way prior.

So now they have to cut apart the tree and try to unwind every one of these branches. And it’s quite a cumbersome task. You figure it’s wrapped at least twice around. So, you know, if you’re going to cut a limb, you have to be very careful not to break the wires. So I have a very much renewed respect for what they will have to go through in January.

Anything else about the experience that surprised you?

JH: So anything else about the experience that surprised you? Anything you weren’t expecting?

LD: Well, I will honestly say I wasn’t expecting the ornaments to get washed. That really took me by surprise. And I am one who dusts my ornaments before I put them up. And I wash my village houses every year.

But I was thinking on that scale, who does that? But they do, they do. And I think what was surprising was the level of respect for our skillset and what we brought to the table was definitely appreciated. Yeah. And Nick, the head designer, and his immediate staff, Mary and Emily, they would walk around. They were accessible. And our team leaders, we each had our own team leaders, and everyone was just, I can’t even describe it. The amount of respect that they gave you and you, in turn, gave them. And they said, “We can’t do this without you.”

Mandy, my team leader, said, “I don’t want to do this alone anymore.” She has been doing this for quite a while. And she says, “Once we got the hang of it, of having all kinds of people.” It’s kind of like herding cats when you think about it. “And Once we got our kind of technique down, our systems in place,” she goes, “I thoroughly enjoy it.” Now she says it’s more enjoyable than when we did it just the core group of people. I think those friendships that we’ve made now and just the whole experience was just mind-blowing.

I will post more photographs. I was waiting actually until after this interview to do another round of photographs. They will show more of the up-close items, the details, and the stars hanging from the ceiling. Many, many more details. You’ve seen the first layer. Now let’s get further, get further into it. So I hope everyone enjoys those. If anyone asks any questions, I will answer. I’m happy to answer anyone’s questions.

What is your favorite part of this year’s theme?

JA: Fantastic. Thank you. And just one last question before we let go. Now that you’ve seen the whole reveal with everything put together, what is your favorite part of this year’s theme?

LD: The Tree of Valor.

JH: Is that the gold star?

LD: It’s gold stars and stars for all military who have served, for veterans. The gold stars that you see are for the deceased veterans. I have a little prediction – that next year, I’m anticipating maybe that more of the family service component will be highlighted. Just my guess. But I say that is because President Trump made the entire month, Military Families Month, not just Veterans Day on the 11th. We love and live for them. But I have a feeling that kind of stuck with me that maybe not next year, but I had a feeling the familial supportive aspect of our troops in our country will perhaps be highlighted in a couple of different ways or maybe that will be part of the theme in a more prominent way. I’m not sure. But I have a feeling by the way that just everything was about family and military family. I worked alongside a woman whose husband is still active duty. She did this last year. He was deployed. He now is back. They do live in Virginia, and he works at the Pentagon. He’s still active. You’re working alongside people that are sacrificing for this country. So that’s just what my gut says. And I hope I’m right.

JH: I love that. That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much, Linda, for sharing everything.

LD: It was my honor to tell you the truth. It really was.

JH: We love it. I know our listeners are going to love it. We have a Facebook Group, and I’ll reshare some of your posts.

JA: Thank you, guys so much for listening. We hope you enjoyed that. And as always, if you’re not part of our Facebook group, we invite you to join us, The Millennial Homemakers. And you can follow us on Instagram @themillennialhomemakers. You can find Jaclyn @jaclynhumble, and you can find me @jvalexander16. We wish you a Merry Christmas.

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