"Simple Gifts" at the White House Christmas

First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled the annual White House Christmas decorations on Tuesday, with the theme of "Simple Gifts." But, as with any White House Christmas, "simple" isn't really the word to describe the lavish, intricate decorations adorning the first family's residence, which features everything from the annual gingerbread version of the White House to a Bo Obama replica made from 40,000 pipe cleaners.

Mrs. Obama said she hoped this year's "Simple Gifts" theme reflected the true spirit of the holiday season.

"In the end, the greatest blessings of all are the ones that don't cost a thing -- the time that we spend with our loved ones, the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, and the joy we feel from reaching out to those in need," she told the groups of volunteers and decorators gathered at the White House, along with military families and children invited for the occasion.

"You guys are some of the first families to see the house," she told the kids. "Do you realize that? Nobody else but our family and our volunteers ha[ve]? seen this yet, so this is a very special day, and we're glad to have you."

Mrs. Obama then gathered the kids and helped them make holiday crafts with the White House florists and decorate cookies with the White House chefs.

The decorations, which are open for public viewing, sprawl across several rooms in the residence's East Wing. In keeping with the theme, many of the decorations are made from "simple" materials like wood, paper and dried fruits.

One of the first things visitors can see is the "Military Appreciation Tree," which honors those serving in the armed forces and is the brainchild of Mrs. Obama and Deborah Mullen, the wife of Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. There's a children's tree nearby, decorted with ornaments crafted by children of US troops.

A larger-than-life replica of Bo, the Obamas' Portuguese water dog, is made out of 40,000 pipe cleaners. A smaller Bo, made out of marzipan, sits in front of a 350-pound White House replica, shaped out of gingerbread and white chocolate. The gingerbread house, which sits in the State Dining Room, has been a traditional part of the decorations since the Nixon years.

A lavish Christmas table setting is on display in the China Room, while the Green Room showcases environmentally friendly decorations made out of recycled and reusable materials. Throughout the residence, there are garlands, wreaths, presents, poinsettias, lights, and nineteen huge, sparkling Christmas trees.

The White House often begins planning for Christmas as early as January, and volunteers from every state descend on the residence every fall, busily transforming the mansion into a winter wonderland.

"I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for all the work that you've done," Mrs. Obama told the volunteers. "That spirit of kindness and generosity is really what the holiday season is all about."