WASHINGTON — For her family's final Christmas in the White House, Michelle Obama used the holiday decor to highlight her core initiatives as first lady: military service, education and health.
The familiar crowd-pleasers are still part of the annual show:
—A towering tree dominates the Blue Room, trimmed as it has been in the past to honor the U.S. military and their families, an issue Mrs. Obama has emphasized.
—Larger-than-life replicas of family dogs Bo and Sunny will greet tens of thousands of holiday visitors shortly after they enter through the East Wing.
—And no White House Christmas would feel complete without the annual gingerbread version. This year's replica on display in the State Dining Room weighed in at more than 300 pounds, including 150 pounds of gingerbread covered in 100 pounds of bread dough to form the white exterior. Models of Bo and Sunny sit out front, and Mrs. Obama's revamped vegetable garden is represented.
Downstairs in the library, education is the theme. Ornaments on two trees are written with the word "girls" in 12 languages, honoring the first lady's "Let Girls Learn" initiative to help countries educate tens of millions of adolescent girls around the world. Other trees in the library are made out of crayons or pencils.
Mrs. Obama's "Let's Move" anti-childhood obesity is represented by a variety of fruit, to symbolize healthy eating, laid out in the Green and Red Rooms upstairs on the State Floor. Wreaths made of lemons and garlands made of limes decorate Green Room walls; clove-studded oranges, apples and pomegranates are mixed with greens to create wreaths for the Red Room.
"This year's holiday theme is 'The Gift of the Holidays,'" the first lady said Tuesday afternoon after unveiling the decorations for military families. "We're going to be celebrating our country's greatest gifts, with special decorations celebrating our military families." The theme is also meant to encourage people to reflect on "the true gifts of life," such as service, friends and family, education and good health, her office said in a statement describing the decorations.
More than 90 volunteer decorators from 33 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico began arriving on Thanksgiving to begin the monumental task of decorating the White House, doing everything from hauling boxes and making bows to hanging lights and wreaths and trimming trees. The 19-foot Blue Room tree arrived on Friday, and it took four days to get it ready, said volunteer decorator Patricia Ochan, of Arlington, Virginia.
The tree features mirrored ornaments and garland with the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. Besides the Blue Room tree, a second tree downstairs is decorated with gold ornaments in honor of service members who gave their lives for the country.
Ochan, a military spouse originally from Uganda, said it was "most exciting" to help decorate the Blue Room tree.
"I know how it feels not to have your loved one home with you for the holidays," she said.
Another highlight? Fifty-six Lego gingerbread houses, one for each state and U.S. territory, that are nestled in the branches of the trees in the State Dining Room. A team of Lego builders at the company's Connecticut offices crafted the houses from more than 200,000 Lego pieces, the White House said.
Most of the 70,000 ornaments and other decorations were reused, the White House said. Just 10 percent were new.
Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap