Dozens of children cashed in their equivalent of a golden ticket on Monday: a greeting from the president and a private showing of "Willy Wonka" at the White House.

In a yearly tradition, President Bush and first lady Laura Bush welcomed their young guests to the East Room for a holiday performance. The kids all came from military families, and the president had a message for them.

"We wanted to welcome you here to the White House to, first of all, thank you for your strength — and so that you would do me a favor," the president told the children. He asked them to send an e-mail to their parents stationed overseas to say "how much the commander in chief respects them, admires them and supports them."

Bush and his wife sat with the children for an abbreviated performance of "Willy Wonka," a play based on Roald Dahl's book, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." It's the story of Charlie Bucket, who finds a golden ticket to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory and is rewarded by Wonka for showing honesty and character.

The president seemed to enjoy the music, often tapping his feet and nodding along. When he went on stage to thank the performers after the show, the children headed the other way — following Santa Claus out of the room.