Category Archives: Travel

Arizona Immigration Law Boycott Could Cost Phoenix $90 Million

Posted by: BuellBoy

AP~A city official says Phoenix could possibly lose hotel and convention center business worth about $90 million over the next five years because of fallout from Arizona’s new immigration law.

The law has attracted international attention as well as calls for tourists and businesses to boycott Arizona.

A deputy city manager who is monitoring the issue – David Krietor – says city and tourism officials in Phoenix have compiled a “watch list” tracking the potential fallout. The list includes four organizations that have canceled events and more than a dozen groups that have expressed concerns about the new law.

The $90 million figure represents the estimated amount of money that those groups’ members would spend in the region. Some events are scheduled to take place this year, while others are booked as far out at 2015.

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President Obama and First Lady Michelle in Asheville, NC ~ Day Two

Posted by: Audiegrl

Kids try to get a glimpse of President Barack Obama as he golfed on his weekend break in Asheville, N.C., April 24, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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Pool Reports

  • 8:48 AM~Potus is golfing. He teed off at 7:30 am at the Grove Park Inn course, the White House says. No press coverage was permitted. The foursome included Chicago friends Marty Nesbitt and Eric Whitaker, and White House Trip Director Marvin Nicholson.
  • 1:38 PM~Potus finished playing 18 holes of golf at 12:54 pm, nearly 5 1/2 hours after teeing off. One glimpse of the foursome as they played what appears to be a par 4. A witness said potus waved to a group of hotel guests watching his tee shot from a glassed-in lounge above the course. As the long convoy of golf carts made it’s way to the green (well protected by bunkers), guests clad in blue bathrobes emerged from the nearby spa to get a look. Weather cooperated during the president’s round, though skies are still overcast.
  • 7:22 PM~Potus, flotus, the Nesbitts and the Whitakers left the Grove Park Inn at 6:00 pm and drove 20 minutes to the Biltmore House, where they received a 50 minute private tour. The house, which gives the White House a run for it’s money, is a 4- story French Renaissance manor with 250 rooms and 65 fireplaces. Built by George Vanderbilt, it is said to be the largest privately owned home in the U.S. Steady rain now falling. Motorcade has left the grounds and we’re rolling toward a restaurant where the 3 couples are having dinner.
  • 7:54 PM~The first couple and friends are dining at the Corner Kitchen restaurant in Asheville. Motorcade dropped them off about 7:30 p.m.
  • 9:05 PM~Potus, flotus and friends left the Corner Kitchen restaurant about 9 pm. Potus, wearing a dark jacket against the rain, got a round of applause from diners as he left. Standing outside he waved at the pool. Someone inside the restaurant yelled, “Come back soon.” “We will!” he said. Michelle followed him out, with someone holding an umbrella above her head. Motorcade rolling back to the hotel.

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President Obama and First Lady Michelle in Asheville, NC ~ Day One

Posted by: Audiegrl

President Obama and the First Lady made a surprise visit to 12 Bones smokehouse in Asheville, North Carolina this afternoon, which had seen another surprise visit from then-candidate Obama in October 2008. (12 Bones appears to be well-liked by most.)

The Obama mingled with customers and staff, posed for photos and eventually ordered two rib plates, and given order number 99. From the pool report, the precise order per Bill Burton was:

Ribs, greens, baked beans, corn pudding, mac & cheese and corn bread. All washed down with a couple of sweet teas.

About those ribs…deputy press sescretary Bill Burton tweeted during the meal:

Plates of ribs here at 12 Bones Smokehouse give new meaning to ‘too big to fail’

When the Obamas left 12 Bones, a crowd had gathered on the corner, a few with “Welcome” signs, and a couple that read: “We love Sasha” and “Howdy Malia.”

Next the Obamas went for a post-BBQ hike, to work off some of that great food.

From the pool report:

After a more than hour-long hike that your pooler didn’t get to (or have to, depending on your view of hikes) go on, the president and the first lady emerged from the trail off of Blue Ridge Parkway at 4:34 p.m.

A string of sweaty USSS agents and support staff emerged first. POTUS and FLOTUS, each carrying a bottle of water, exchanged a few words with a couple of rangers at the top of the trail. Marvin Nicholson was also at there waiting.

Neither of the first hikers seemed winded, and FLOTUS, who had on a tank top and her shirt around her waist, even did a light jog to their SUV.

Bill Burton sends along this anecdote from POTUS and FLOTUS’s hike:

Quote from chance encounter with an elderly woman on the hiking trail. They stopped briefly to say hi.

“Are you who I think you are?
You just made my day. You just made my year!”

Burton says the first couple encountered about 4 other hikers.

The White House says the Obamas have no public plans while in North Carolina, although the president will speak at Sunday’s memorial in Beckley, W.Va., for the victims of the worst U.S. coal mine disaster in 40 years. The April 5 explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine took 29 lives.

The Obamas plan to return to Washington on Sunday evening.

You can learn more about Ashville, NC @

Photos from the first day…

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have a chance encounter with other hikers while walking along a trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway outside of Asheville, N.C., April 23, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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The First Couple Head to Asheville, North Carolina for A Week-end Getaway

Posted by: Audiegrl

President Obama and the First Lady head to Asheville, North Carolina this weekend for a week-end getaway.

The historic city of Asheville, on the edge of the Appalachian Mountains features a funky and eclectic downtown, more than 30 art galleries, a large culinary scene and one of the most spectacular estates ever constructed in this country.

Its location just off the famous Blue Ridge Parkway, which connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with the Shenandoah National Park, makes it a great launching point for tourists looking to hike, bike or go rafting.

Look for more posts, photos and videos of the trip over the weekend.

You can learn more about Ashville, NC @

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First Lady Michelle Obama Graces the Cover of Condé Nast Traveler

Posted by: Audiegrl

First Lady Michelle Obama hits the cover of Conde Nast’s Traveler talking about living in Washington. Excerpt from Conde Nast Traveler story on Mrs. Obama’s Washington…

Mrs. Obama shares a few of the First Family’s favorite Washington spots:

The Newseum, is an interactive museum of news and journalism located at 555 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C. The seven-level, 250,000 square foot museum features 15 theaters and 14 galleries. The Newseum’s Berlin Wall Gallery includes the largest display of sections of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany. The Today’s Front Pages Gallery presents daily front pages from more than 80 international newspapers.

First Lady: High recommendations (from the kids). They love the Newseum.”

Monticello is located just outside Charlottesville, Virginia, was the estate of Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence, third President of the United States, and founder of the University of Virginia. Monticello, along with the nearby University of Virginia, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

First Lady: It is just incredibly beautiful, and that beautiful garden that he planted that is three times the size of anything that you’d ever do. It brings it to life, not just for my kids but for me.”

Luray Caverns is a large, celebrated commercial cave just west of Luray, Virginia, USA, which has drawn many visitors since its discovery in 1878. The underground cavern system is generously adorned with speleothems (columns, mud flows, stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, mirrored pools, etc). there are hundreds of basins, varying from 1 to 50 feet in diameter, and from 6 inches to 15 feet in depth. The water in them contains carbonate of lime, which often forms concretions, called pearls, eggs, and snowballs, according to their size.

First Lady:Yes! We saw the egg. Barack was very jealous — he’s a Tour Guy.”

Bureau of Engraving and Printing is a government agency within the United States Department of the Treasury that designs and produces a variety of security products for the United States Government, most notable of which is paper currency for the Federal Reserve. In addition to paper currency, the B.E.P. produces Treasury securities; military commissions and award certificates; invitations and admission cards; and many different types of identification cards, forms, and other special security documents for a variety of Government agencies.

First Lady:We did the Bureau of Engraving (and Printing tour).”

The May 2010 issue of Condé Nast Traveler will be on newsstands April 14.

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Discoveries: The First Women in Antarctica

Posted by: Audiegrl

Forty years ago, a pioneering research team from Ohio State made history as the first U.S. women in Antarctica

Terry Tickhill (light hat) and Eileen McSaveney (red headband) use a hand augur to drill Lake Vanda, Wright Valley, Antarctica, during the 1969-1970 field season. Water collected during this effort was used to date the lake. The green tent in the background was of the same type as the field crew used for housing during their work in Wright Valley. (Credit: Lois Jones)

Terry Tickhill (light hat) and Eileen McSaveney (red headband) use a hand augur to drill Lake Vanda, Wright Valley, Antarctica, during the 1969-1970 field season. Water collected during this effort was used to date the lake. The green tent in the background was of the same type as the field crew used for housing during their work in Wright Valley. (Credit: Lois Jones)

January 11, 2010~~In the spring of 1969, Terry Tickhill Terrell was 19 and an undergraduate chemistry major at Ohio State University, bored with her lab work and restless. She had never traveled more than 250 miles from the Barnesville, Ohio, farm where she grew up.

One day, after reading an article in the school newspaper about a graduate student who had just returned from Antarctica, Terrell decided that that was where she wanted to go.

I couldn’t understand why all this awful lab work was important,” Terrell said. “So I walked into the Polar Studies office and said: ‘I want a job in Antarctica.’ The room fell dead silent. The secretary took pity on me and said: ‘There’s a group of women going this year. Dr. Lois Jones is in her office right now, and I’ll call her.”‘

The secretary was referring to geochemist Lois Jones, the leader of the four-woman Ohio State team scheduled to leave in October for four months in Antarctica. Terrell wanted to be a part of it.

Dr. Jones said, ‘We have everyone we need, but tell me about yourself,”‘ Terrell recalled. “I said, ‘I’m a chemistry major. I grew up on a farm. I am a hard worker.’ She asked if I’d done any camping. I said, ‘I’m an outdoor person, and took outdoor cookery at 4H.’ The next day she called me up and said: ‘One of the ladies is unable to go. I need a cook and field assistant.”‘

In addition to Terrell and Jones–who passed away in 2000–the team also included Kay Lindsay and geologist Eileen McSaveney. McSaveney, the other surviving member of the group, had graduated from the University of Buffalo and came to Ohio State for graduate work in landscape changes and glacial geology.

One day, Lois asked me if I would be interested in going to Antarctica as one of her field assistants,” McSaveney said. “I said yes without any hesitation–many fellow geology grad students were involved in polar work. Also, my fiancé, Mauri, had already been to Antarctica that year. Going to the Antarctic didn’t seem an unusual thing to do.”

At the time, neither woman thought much about the fact that their forthcoming journey would mark the triumphant end to a decade-long struggle. Until then, no one could convince the U.S. Navy to rescind its long-standing policy against transporting women onto the Antarctic continent.

The Navy, which had established McMurdo Station, the main American base in Antarctica, as a military outpost in 1956, had been adamant in its refusal to allow women there. Moreover, the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funded the program, did not challenge the Navy’s position.

The U.S. Navy was in charge of field operations and they regarded Antarctica as a male-only bastion,” McSaveney said. “Eventually they agreed to allow women to go, but specified an all-female field team.”

Now, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of that pioneering expedition, about a third of Antarctic scientists are women. Hundreds of women have worked in the program, some of them leading research stations and heading major expeditions. More than 50 are working at the South Pole during the 2009-2010 summer season.

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Christmas Around the World


Christmas Around the WorldChristmas as we know it today is a Victorian invention of the 1860s. Probably the most celebrated holiday in the world, our modern Christmas is a product of hundreds of years of both secular and religious traditions from around the globe.

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Sweden

‘God Jul!’

St. Lucia by Carl Larsson 1908

St. Lucia by Carl Larsson 1908

Most people in Scandinavian countries honor St. Lucia (also known as St. Lucy) each year on December 13. The celebration of St. Lucia Day began in Sweden, but had spread to Denmark and Finland by the mid-19th century.

In these countries, the holiday is considered the beginning of the Christmas season and, as such, is sometimes referred to as “little Yule.” Traditionally, the oldest daughter in each family rises early and wakes each of her family members, dressed in a long, white gown with a red sash, and wearing a crown made of twigs with nine lighted candles. For the day, she is called “Lussi” or “Lussibruden (Lucy bride).” The family then eats breakfast in a room lighted with candles.

The giant Christmas goat in Gavle, Sweden, a centuries-old Scandanavian yule symbol.

The giant Christmas goat in Gavle, Sweden, a centuries-old Scandanavian yule symbol

Any shooting or fishing done on St. Lucia Day was done by torchlight, and people brightly illuminated their homes. At night, men, women, and children would carry torches in a parade. The night would end when everyone threw their torches onto a large pile of straw, creating a huge bonfire. In Finland today, one girl is chosen to serve as the national Lucia and she is honored in a parade in which she is surrounded by torchbearers.

Light is a main theme of St. Lucia Day, as her name, which is derived from the Latin word lux, means light. Her feast day is celebrated near the shortest day of the year, when the sun’s light again begins to strengthen. Lucia lived in Syracuse during the fourth century when persecution of Christians was common. Unfortunately, most of her story has been lost over the years. According to one common legend, Lucia lost her eyes while being tortured by a Diocletian for her Christian beliefs. Others say she may have plucked her own eyes out to protest the poor treatment of Christians. Lucia is the patron saint of the blind.

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Finland

‘Hyvää Joulua!’

1907 Christmas postcard

Families gather and listen to the national “Peace of Christmas” radio broadcast. Hours are spent in the kitchen cooking and baking special treats for the festive season. In Finland the Christmas tree is set up on Christmas Eve. The Christmas festivities are preceded by a visit to the famous steam baths.

Christmas gifts may be given out before or after the dinner. The children do not hang up stockings, but Santa Claus comes in person, often accompanied by as many as half a dozen Christmas elves to distribute the presents.

The celebration of St Lucia Day (13 December) was only introduced to Finland from Sweden in 1950 but has been widely adopted by Finnish families. Additionally, a national Lucia is chosen by public vote from a short list of ten teenage girls and December 13 marks her first official appearance, wearing a long white dress and a crown of lighted candles. Following this she pays visits to Christmas gatherings, hospitals and schools to spread her message of light, hope and charity.

The main dish of the dinner is boiled codfish served snowy white and fluffy, with allspice, boiled potatoes, and cream sauce. The dried cod has been soaked for a week in a lye solution, then in clear water to soften it to the right texture. Also on the menu is roast suckling pig or a roasted fresh ham, mashed potatoes, and vegetables. After dinner the children go to bed while the older people stay up to chat with visitors and drink coffee until about midnight.

Christmas Day services in the churches begin at six in the morning. It is a day for family visits and reunions. In some parts of the country the Star Boys tour the countryside singing Christmas songs. During all these days the people keep wishing each other a “Merry Yule.” It is also customary to visit the gravesites of departed family members.

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Norway

‘Gledelig Jul!’

Traditional Norway Christmas Meal

Traditional Norway Christmas Meal

Norway is the birthplace of the Yule log. The ancient Norse used the Yule log in their celebration of the return of the sun at winter solstice. “Yule” came from the Norse word hweol, meaning wheel. The Norse believed that the sun was a great wheel of fire that rolled towards and then away from the earth. Ever wonder why the family fireplace is such a central part of the typical Christmas scene? This tradition dates back to the Norse Yule log. It is probably also responsible for the popularity of log-shaped cheese, cakes, and desserts during the holidays.

Since ancient times Norwegians have celebrated midwinter with parties and feasts to mark the transition from the dark winter to the light of spring and summer. However, during the 10th century King Haakon decided that the pagan custom of celebrating Jul (Yule) would be moved to 25 December and would celebrate the birth of Jesus. Over the years this has gradually moved from being a pagan festival to being a Christian festival instead. However, many of the traditions have remained.

At 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve the church bells ‘ringe in Julen‘ (ring in Christmas) throughout the country. This is the real start to Christmas celebrations. Most people attend a church and after the service they return home to eat a bowl of porridge with butter, sugar and cinnamon. Before the family sit down to eat this, the tradition is to put out a bowl of porridge for the nisse (gnome)

After the meal the indoor tree is lit and Julenissen arrives with a sack full of gifts from Santa. Julenissen is usually depicted with a long white beard and red stocking cap, wearing knee breeches, hand knitted stockings, a Norwegian sweater and a homespun jacket. This is topped by a heavy fur coat. Once all the presents have been distributed and have been opened everyone sits down for coffee and cakes.

Christmas Day starts with a church service. This is followed by the Christmas Buffet which includes such food as pork, lamb, cold meats, lutefisk, herring, trout, salmon, cheese, fruit, cloudberry cream, flat bread and cakes. This is accompanied by beer and aquavit. The Christmas season finally comes to an end on 13 January when everyone takes down their decorations and trees until December.

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Germany

‘Froehliche Weihnachten!’

Decorating evergreen trees had always been a part of the German winter solstice tradition. The first “Christmas trees” explicitly decorated and named after the Christian holiday, appeared in Strasbourg, in Alsace in the beginning of the 17th century. After 1750, Christmas trees began showing up in other parts of Germany, and even more so after 1771, when Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited Strasbourg and promptly included a Christmas tree is his novel, The Suffering of Young Werther. In the 1820s, the first German immigrants decorated Christmas trees in Pennsylvania. After Germany’s Prince Albert married Queen Victoria, he introduced the Christmas tree tradition to England. In 1848, the first American newspaper carried a picture of a Christmas tree and the custom spread to nearly every home in just a few years.

Children leave letters on their windowsills for Christkind, a winged figure dressed in white robes and a golden crown who distributes gifts. Sometimes the letters are decorated with glue and sprinkled with sugar to make them sparkle.

Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin, Germany

Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin, Germany

Germans make beautiful gingerbread houses and cookies. The German Christmas tree pastry, Christbaumgeback, is a white dough that can be molded into shapes and baked for tree decorations. In parts of Germany, people believe that the Christ Child sends a messenger in Christmas Eve. He appears as an angel in a white robe and crown, bearing gifts. The angel is called Christkind. There is also a Christmas Eve figure called Weihnachtsmann or Christmas Man, he looks like Santa Claus and also brings gifts.

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Mexico

‘Feliz Navidad!’

Las Posadas

Las Posadas

In 1828, the American minister to Mexico, Joel R. Poinsett, brought a red-and-green plant from Mexico to America. As its coloring seemed perfect for the new holiday, the plants, which were called poinsettias after Poinsett, began appearing in greenhouses as early as 1830. In 1870, New York stores began to sell them at Christmas. By 1900, they were a universal symbol of the holiday.

Beginning December 16th, “La Posadas” commemorates the events in the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Each night of the “Posada” a procession led by two children begins.

The children carry a small pine-decorated platform bearing replicas of Joseph and Mary riding a burro. Other members, all with lighted long slender candles, sing the “Litany of the Virgin” as they approach the door of the house assigned to the first “Posada.” Together they chant an old traditional song and awaken the residents of the house to ask for lodging for Mary. Those within the house threaten the company with beatings unless they move on. Again, the company pleads for lodging. When the owner of the house finally learns who his guests are, he jubilantly throws open the doors and bids them welcome. All kneel around the manger scene or “Nacimiento” and offer songs of welcome, Ave Marias and a prayer.

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England

‘Merry Christmas!’

The world's first Christmas card designed by John Calcott Horsley in 1843.

An Englishman named John Calcott Horsley helped to popularize the tradition of sending Christmas greeting cards when he began producing small cards featuring festive scenes and a pre-written holiday greeting in the late 1830s. Newly efficient post offices in England and the United States made the cards nearly overnight sensations. At about the same time, similar cards were being made by R.H. Pease, the first American card maker, in Albany, New York, and Louis Prang, a German who immigrated to America in 1850.

Celtic and Teutonic peoples had long considered mistletoe to have magic powers. It was said to have the ability to heal wounds and increase fertility. Celts hung mistletoe in their homes in order to bring themselves good luck and ward off evil spirits. During holidays in the Victorian era, the English would hang sprigs of mistletoe from ceilings and in doorways. If someone was found standing under the mistletoe, they would be kissed by someone else in the room, behavior not usually demonstrated in Victorian society.

Plum pudding is an English dish dating back to the Middle Ages. Suet, flour, sugar, raisins, nuts, and spices are tied loosely in cloth and boiled until the ingredients are “plum,” meaning they have enlarged enough to fill the cloth. It is then unwrapped, sliced like cake, and topped with cream.

Caroling also began in England. Wandering musicians would travel from town to town visiting castles and homes of the rich. In return for their performance, the musicians hoped to receive a hot meal or money.

Plum Pudding

In the United States and England, children hang stockings on their bedpost or near a fireplace on Christmas Eve, hoping that it will be filled with treats while they sleep. In Scandinavia, similar-minded children leave their shoes on the hearth. This tradition can be traced to legends about Saint Nicholas. One legend tells of three poor sisters who could not marry because they had no money for a dowry. To save them from being sold by their father, St. Nick left each of the three sisters gifts of gold coins. One went down the chimney and landed in a pair of shoes that had been left on the hearth. Another went into a window and into a pair of stockings left hanging by the fire to dry.

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France

‘Joyeux Noël!’

A lavish feast of truffle-scented roast turkey and delicious trimmings from the Burgundy countryside.

A lavish feast of truffle-scented roast turkey and delicious trimmings from the Burgundy countryside.

Christmas has been celebrated for nearly 1500 years in France. In France, Christmas is called Noel. This comes from the French phrase les bonnes nouvelles, which means “the good news” and refers to the gospel.

In southern France, some people burn a log in their homes from Christmas Eve until New Year’s Day. This stems from an ancient tradition in which farmers would use part of the log to ensure good luck for the next year’s harvest.

Whatever their behavior, hopeful French youngsters place slippers or shoes at the fireplace on Christmas Eve. That evening’s special supper called the réveillon features delicacies native to the region, including spun sugar, pâés and pastries. Spun sugar delicacies called sotelties are made to depict miniature castles, Biblical scenes, or exotic birds. Another highlight is bûche de Noël a log shaped cake with chocolate butter cream filling, brown icing and lines that resemble bark. At the stroke of midnight, the sounds of “Oh Holy Night” resound through churches and cathedrals across France.

Christmas market in Strasbourg

Christmas market in Strasbourg

Children alone receive presents on December 25th. Adults wait until New Year’s Day to exchange gifts. Some small presents can be found among the branches of the French Christmas tree.

The santons or little saints made in Provence are the heart of French Noël. These simple manger figures resemble real people in detail and dress. No one is excluded all characters good and bad are created to be included in the French manger scene.

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Italy

‘Buone Natale!’

Midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica

Midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica

Christmas season in Italy is traditionally celebrated December 24-January 6, or Christmas Eve through Epiphany. This follows the pagan season of celebrations that started with Saturnalia, a winter solstice festival, and ended with the Roman New Year, the Calends. However there are lots of Christmas things to see during December prior to Christmas, many starting on December 8, the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception.

Although Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) and giving presents on Christmas are becoming more common, the main day for gift giving is Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas when the three Wise Men gave Baby Jesus their gifts. In Italy, presents are brought by La Befana, who arrives in the night to fill children’s stockings. More about Epiphany and La Befana

Nativity Scene in Siena Italy

Nativity Scene in Siena Italy

Christmas decorations and trees are becoming more popular in Italy. Lights and decorations are often seen starting around December 8, the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, or even the end of November. The main focus of decorations continues to be the presepe, Nativity scene or creche. Almost every church has a presepe and they are often found outdoors in a piazza or public area, too.

Traditionally, a meatless dinner is eaten on Christmas eve with the family, followed by a living nativity scene and midnight mass. In parts of southern Italy a seven fishes dinner is traditionally served on Christmas Eve. Traditional bonfires are often held on Christmas Eve in the main square of town, especially in mountain areas. Dinner on Christmas day is usually meat based.

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Australia

‘Merry Christmas’

Santa arriving at the beach by boat

Santa arriving at the beach by boat

In Australia, the holiday comes in the middle of summer and it’s not unusual for some parts of Australia to hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit on Christmas day.

During the warm and sunny Australian Christmas season, beach time and outdoor barbecues are common. Traditional Christmas day celebrations include family gatherings, exchanging gifts and either a hot meal with ham, turkey, pork or seafood or barbecues.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas houses are decorated; greetings cards sent out; carols sung; Christmas trees installed in homes, schools and public places; and children delight in anticipating a visit from Santa Claus. On Christmas Day family and friends gather to exchange gifts and enjoy special Christmas food.

Many Australians spend Christmas out of doors, going to the beach for the day, or heading to camping grounds for a longer break over the Christmas holiday period. It has become traditional for international visitors who are in Sydney at Christmas time to go to Bondi Beach where up to 40,000 people visit on Christmas Day.

Blandfordia nobilis - Christmas bells

Blandfordia nobilis - Christmas bells

There are many native Australian plants in flower over the Christmas season. A number of these have become known as ‘Christmas plants‘ in various parts of the country, including Christmas bells, Christmas bush and the Christmas orchid.

When Europeans first arrived in Australia they were delighted that they could pick wildflowers resembling bells and bright green foliage covered in red or white flowers to use as Christmas decorations. This was a huge contrast to the bare trees and dormant gardens they had left behind in Europe.

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Czech Republic

‘Vesele Vanoce !’

Christmas market in Prague

Christmas market in Prague

Christmas in the Czech Republic begins with Svatej Nikulas Day, on December 6 and ends with the visit of the Tri Kralu (Three Kings) on January 6. On December 6, Saint Nicholas descends from the sky on a golden cord, accompanied by an angel dressed in white with gifts for the good boys and girls, and a devil named Cert dressed in black, carrying a whip and rattling a chain. As soon as the children hear them coming, they rush to the table and say their prayers. Those who know their prayers are rewarded with a gift; those who do not may feel Cert’s whip!

A twenty-four hour period of strict fast concludes on Christmas Eve when the first star of the night is seen. This star represents the star of Bethlehem. The children are promised that if they fast faithfully they will see golden pigs at supper time. At the beginning of supper, the candles are lit and the pigs appear on the wall and ceiling. The flickering of the candle flames perform the trick, because at the center of the table is the young roasted pig. The supper consists of seven courses and what is left over (there are always leftovers) is fed to the pigs. An extra place is set at the table and left empty for the Christ-child.

Vánocní cukroví - decorated cookies, traditionally eaten at Christmas

Vánocní cukroví - decorated cookies, traditionally eaten at Christmas

The manger scene is ever present in both church and home. These nativity scenes are called Bethlehems, and setting them up is a great family pastime. Usually they are complete villages carved from wood or fashioned from bread dough and then elaborately painted. Carolers carry miniature Bethlehem scenes as they go from house to house giving concerts. After singing, they are invited into the home for a glass of wine and a piece of vanocka, a sweetbread.

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Canada

‘Merry Christmas’

Christmas Lights in Old Montreal

Christmas Lights in Old Montreal

Canada is a country with a great number of immigrant families. Different cultural backgrounds such as French, English, German, Ukrainian, and First Nations come together as one people Canadians. Because of the many different peoples the customs of Christmas are very diverse.

Because of Canada’s strong Anglican and Catholic religious traditions, Christmas Eve is a big celebration. Many famous churches offer special services. The Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal has a 5,772 pipe organ and thousands of worshipers come on Christmas Eve to attend the service and hear the children’s choir.

The Christmas tree is native to the Canadian region. Nova Scotia is named “The Christmas Tree Province” because it produces more than 1.5 million trees each year for eastern Canada and the United States. Trees from this region are shipped as far away as Venezuela. All of the Canadian provinces together produce approximately 6 million Christmas trees every year.

Toronto Santa Claus Parade

Toronto Santa Claus Parade

Our Canadian Christmas tree is decorated with Chicken Bones and Barley Toys, two treats with strange names, but they have meant Christmas to children along Canada’s eastern shores for more than 100 years. Barley toys are tasty animal-shaped candies served either plain or on sticks and made from barley candy. The name barley probably comes from an old children’s game. Chicken Bones is a cinnamon flavored hard candy that is filled with chocolate and is a Christmas favorite in Canada.

Boxing Day, celebrated the day after Christmas, is an important national holiday to Canadians. Traditionally boxing day was a day delivery boys could hope to receive a gratuity from those they served. Today its main significance is a day of sales at stores. Many people use this day to exchange Christmas gifts.

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Greece

‘Kala Christouyenna!’

St. Nicholas is important in Greece as the patron saint of sailors. According to Greek tradition, his clothes are drenched with brine, his beard drips with seawater, and his face is covered with perspiration because he has been working hard against the waves to reach sinking ships and rescue them from the angry sea. To members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, as are most Greek Christians, Christmas ranks second to Easter in the roster of important holidays. Yet there are a number of unique customs associated with Christmas that are uniquely Greek.

On Christmas Eve, village children travel from house to house offering good wishes and singing kalanda, the equivalent of carols. Often the songs are accompanied by small metal triangles and little clay drums. The children are frequently rewarded with sweets and dried fruits.

A Christmas market in Athens, Greece

A Christmas market in Athens, Greece

After 40 days of fasting, the Christmas feast is looked forward to with great anticipation by adults and children alike. Pigs are slaughtered and on almost every table are loaves of christopsomo (“Christ Bread“). This bread is made in large sweet loaves of various shapes and the crusts are engraved and frosted with symbols that in some way that reflects the family’s profession. It is served with dried figs, nuts, and honey.

Christmas morning begins with an early Mass at the Greek Orthodox Church. After the service, Greeks feast on roast turkey stuffed with chestnuts, rice, pine nuts, and a nut cookie called kourambiethes. Baklava, another sweet dessert, is made from layers of phyllo pastry, filled with almonds and cinnamon, and then soaked in lemon syrup.

In almost every home it is traditional to have a shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire is suspended across the rim; from that hangs a sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross. A small amount of water is kept in the bowl to keep the basil alive and fresh. Once a day, a family member, usually the mother, dips the cross and basil into some holy water and uses it to sprinkle water in each room of the house. This ritual is believed to keep the Kallikantzaroi away from the house.

Baklava

Baklava

There are a number of beliefs connected with the Kallikantzaroi, which are a species of goblins or spirits who appear only during the 12-day period from Christmas to the Epiphany (January 6). These creatures are believed to emerge from the center of the earth and to slip into people’s house through the chimney. More mischievous than actually evil, the Kallikantzaroi do things like extinguish fires, ride astride people’s backs, braid horses’ tails, and sour the milk. To further repel the undesirable sprites, the hearth is kept burning day and night throughout the twelve days.

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Venezuela

‘Feliz Navidad!’

Christmas in Venezuela is a mixture of religious tradition and sheer fun. Beginning on December 16, many families erect a pesebre in their house, with not only a nativity scene, but a diorama of the entire region with mountains, hills, plains, and valleys. Often this is a work of art into which the head of the family has put many hours, and the pieces become heirlooms to be passed down from generation to generation. One custom dictates that on the first day of the new year, the figure of the Christ child must be lifted from the manger crib and placed in a standing position until the Feast of Cadelaria on February 2nd. Neighbors and friends keep watch to be sure that the tradition is strictly honored. If it is not, the figure of the holy child will be secretly stolen and held for ransom. The ransom is a party that must be given by the people who have been appointed as godparents for the holy child. When the figurine is returned to its original setting, a procession is held which may include fireworks and a band along with much singing and dancing.

In the city of Caracas, Christmas Eve is a popular time and a rather unusual custom occurs shortly after midnight. That is when one of the main streets fills with hundreds of young roller-skaters. Friends and schoolmates skate together until time for a special church service, after which the young people skate home for a breakfast featuring hallacas, a traditional Venezuelan meat pie with a cornmeal crust that is wrapped in banana leaves and boiled.

Venezuelan Pan de jamon

Venezuelan Pan de jamon

There may be no snow for Santa’s sled or chimneys for him to climb down in Venezuela, but artificial Christmas trees, some with artificial snow on their branches, can be adorned with colorful decorations using traditional designs and colors.

A manger scene is the primary decoration in most southern European, Central American, and South American nations. St. Francis of Assisi created the first living nativity in 1224 to help explain the birth of Jesus to his followers.

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Holiday Season at the White House with the Obama’s ~ 2009

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November 27, 2009

First Lady Michelle Obama and First Daughters Kick Off Christmas at White House

First lady Michelle Obama, with her daughters Sasha and Malia, as they stand with the White House Christmas tree as it is delivered to the North Portico of the White House in Washington, Friday, Nov. 27, 2009.

First Lady Michelle Obama, with her daughters Sasha and Malia, as they stand with the White House Christmas tree as it is delivered to the North Portico.

AP/—The White House is open for Christmas. A day after celebrating Thanksgiving, First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha received the official White House Christmas tree: an 18½-foot Douglas fir delivered from a farm in Shepherdstown, W.Va., by traditional horse-drawn carriage. Growers Eric and Gloria Sundback officially presented the tree to the Obamas on Friday. It’s the fourth time one of their trees has become the official White House tree.

Malia, Michelle, and Sasha Obama welcome Mark Steelhammer, left, and Eric and Gloria Sundback to the White House.

Malia, Michelle, and Sasha Obama welcome Mark Steelhammer, left, and Eric and Gloria Sundback to the White House.

It’s big enough for Sasha to climb in, I think,” Sundback joked after the Obamas walked from the North Portico of the White House to the driveway where the tree was tied up and lying in the carriage, pulled up the driveway from Pennsylvania Avenue by a pair of Belgian draft horses with red Christmas bows tied to their tails. A sign affixed to the side of the carriage said “White House Christmas Tree 2009.” “We’re excited,” Mrs. Obama told the Sundbacks. Asked by reporters whether the tree was the biggest she ever had, the first lady said: “Yeah, I think this wins.”

The 12-foot wide tree in the oval-shaped Blue Room on the State Floor of the White House, is the star attraction of Christmas at the White House, and will be oohed and aahed over by the thousands of people who will stream through in December for holiday parties and public tours of the executive mansion.

The tree, which the Sundbacks planted in 1996, was hand-picked on Oct. 20 on a visit to the Sundback’s farm by retired Rear Adm. Stephen Rochon, the White House chief usher, and Dale Haney, superintendent of the White House grounds. Besides the official tree, more than a dozen smaller trees from the Sundback farm will decorate other rooms in the White House, including the Oval Office. The Sundbacks, both in their 80s, earned the honor by winning the National Christmas Tree Association’s national contest this year for the fourth time. A tree from the winner’s farm is then chosen as the official White House tree, an annual tradition that dates to 1966. The Sundbacks have grown Christmas trees since 1956 and were thrilled by the opportunity to meet their fourth first lady.

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December 2, 2009

First Lady Michelle Obama Unveils White House Christmas Decorations

The First Lady debuts the 2009 White House Christmas decorations in the Cross Hall of the White House. She is accompanied by U.S. Marines as she promotes the Marine Corp's Toys for Tots program

The First Lady debuts the 2009 White House Christmas decorations in the Cross Hall of the White House. She is accompanied by U.S. Marines as she promotes the Marine Corp's Toys for Tots program

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama became the entertainers-in-chief, hosting nearly 30 parties during their first holiday season at the White House. More than 50,000 people have received invitations to attend one of the 17 holiday parties and 11 open houses at the White House that started in early December.

The Red Room of the White House, with holiday decorations, Dec. 2, 2009. This years holiday theme at the White House is reflect, rejoice and renew.

The Red Room of the White House, with holiday decorations, Dec. 2, 2009. This years holiday theme at the White House is reflect, rejoice and renew.

This isn’t just throwing open the White House doors and putting out some drinks and appetizers. The Obamas attended each party, greeted guests in a receiving line, posed for photos at most of the events and even mingled among the partygoers at a select few.

The Obamas pledged to open up the White House and make it a more open, welcoming place to average Americans. Guests at the White House holiday parties get to explore the mansion’s state floor, which holds famous rooms like the East, Red, Green and Blue rooms and the State Dining Room.

The White House tree is also lit with environmentally sound LED lights

The White House tree is also lit with environmentally sound LED lights

The theme of this year’s decorations is “reflect, rejoice and renew.” The displays are scaled down from previous seasons in an acknowledgment of the tough economic times and also to highlight the Obamas’ emphasis on recycling. Some of the decorations, in fact, are from previous administrations, but with an Obama twist.

We decided to do something just a little different,” Michelle Obama said earlier this month. “We took about 800 ornaments left over from previous administrations, we sent them to 60 local community groups throughout the country, and asked them to decorate them to pay tribute to a favorite local landmark and then send them back to us for display here at the White House.”

Guests still will be able to admire an annual, mouthwatering White House tradition — the gingerbread replica of the president’s mansion, made over the last six weeks by White House pastry chef Bill Yosses. The 400-pound White House is made out of white chocolate and gingerbread with flourishes of marzipan to create the vegetables in the Obamas’ garden and the furniture in the State Dining Room.

The ornaments are hung on the tree with blue ribbon embroidered with the words "reflect," "rejoice" and "renew" in several different languages

The ornaments are hung on the tree with blue ribbon embroidered with the words reflect, rejoice and renew in several different languages

The largest tree in the mansion — an 18 1/2 -foot Douglas fir adorning the Blue Room — is festooned with hundreds of ornaments, all recycled from previous administrations and spruced up by groups around the country to reflect cherished landmarks. Chicagoans clearly had a vote, since the city is represented in orbs singling out the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Chicago Theatre, the Art Institute of Chicago and the DuSable Museum of African American History. “Sweet home, Chicago” is the rhapsody on another ornament. It takes its place with ornaments depicting a Georgia peach, a Maryland crab and others heralding spots from Maine (the Wiggly Bridge near York Harbor) to California (the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library).

A view of the White House Green Room

A view of the White House Green Room

Planning for the holidays began last summer, and the first of an expected 50,000-plus holiday visitors began streaming through December 1st. There were dozens of “elves” behind the decorating, which, while elaborate, was more understated than in recent years. Ninety-two volunteers from 24 states put in more than 3,400 hours of their time. Among the volunteers were some from the Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago. White House staffers and National Park Service workers also rolled up their sleeves in the effort.

The East Room is decorated with fresh garlands, blue hydrangea, seeded eucalyptus and beaded fruit

The East Room is decorated with fresh garlands, blue hydrangea, seeded eucalyptus and beaded fruit

They helped erect a large, ornate nativity scene in the East Room, graced by four fireplaces wearing opulent fresh garlands on their mantels. There, as in the other rooms on the State Floor, Mother Nature is amply represented with adornments of dried hydrangea (leftovers from White House floral arrangements), honeysuckle vine, magnolia branches, cranberries, gigantic pine cones and painted magnolia leaves. Several ruby-red wreaths were created from the magnolia leaves. Two 8-foot topiary trees were crafted from dried pepper berries, all from California. The flowers? They range from pink-tinged white amaryllis, fringed with pepper berry, to pale pink roses married with boxwood.

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December 3, 2009

The 86th Anniversary–Lighting of The National Christmas Tree

The National Christmas Tree Lighting once again provided an opportunity for all Americans to come together to celebrate the season and to share the message of peace.

Presented by the National Park Service and National Park Foundation, an all-star lineup of stars offered a diverse program of holiday music, including traditional songs with dashes of pop, folk and hip-hop.

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December 13, 2009

Christmas at the White House: An Oprah Primetime Special


Oprah Winfrey ushered in the holidays at the White House, visiting President Barack Obama and the First Lady as they prepared for their family’s first Christmas there.

The intimate, informative and entertaining hour-long special included a one-on-one conversation with the President, marking the first time Oprah had interviewed him since he took office, as well as an exclusive sit-down interview with the first couple. The special showcased behind-the-scenes preparations as the White House gets ready for the holiday season. Winfrey’s special included a tour of White House holiday decorations and an appearance by Bo, the family’s dog.

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December 16, 2009

The White House Hanukkah Party: A Special Menorah from Prague, Kosher Foods, and a Larger Guest List

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama watch as a child lights the Hanukkah candles

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama watch as a child lights the Hanukkah candles

Obama Foodorama—December 16th was the sixth night of the Jewish Festival of Lights, and President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted their first Hanukkah party at the White House. The event spilled between the State Dining Room and the East Room, and a Jewish student choir will perform. A very special 19th century menorah was loaned to the White House for the traditional candle lighting ceremony, and it was lit by the two young children of a Jewish soldier deployed in Iraq. The special koshering of the White House kitchen was overseen by Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who heads the Washington office of the American Friends of Lubavitch.

President Barack Obama with First Lady Michelle greets the crowd before his speech at Hradcansky square in Prague on April 5, 2009

President Barack Obama with First Lady Michelle greets the crowd before his speech at Hradcansky square in Prague on April 5, 2009

The sterling silver menorah is on loan from the Jewish Museum in Prague, at the request of Mrs. Obama, who visited when she was touring Prague’s Jewish Town in April, while President Obama was on his first official visit there. The menorah dates from 1783, and is the work of Viennese silversmith Cyril Schillberger. On December 1, Leo Pavlat, director of the Jewish Museum, handed the menorah over to Mary Thompson-Jones, Charge d’Affaires of the Embassy of the United States of America, in a brief ceremony. Pavlat noted that the museum was pleased to loan the menorah to the Obamas, and regarded it as a symbolic connection between the Jewish communities in Moravia and Bohemia and those in the United States. When she was in Prague, Pavlat acted as Mrs. Obama’s tour guide during her tour of Jewish historical sites.

Pavlat and Thompson-Jones during the menorah hand off in Prague

Pavlat and Thompson-Jones during the menorah hand off in Prague

On Dec. 11, the first night of Hanukkah, President Obama sent holiday greetings from the White House, in Hebrew and English:

הצהרת הנשיא אובאמה לרגל חג החנוכה

מישל ואנוכי שולחים את מיטב איחולינו לכל מי שחוגג בימים אלה את חג החנוכה ברחבי העולם. סיפור חנוכה של המכבים ושל הנסים שהם חוו מזכירים לנו שאמונה והתמדה הן כוחות עצומים המסוגלים לקיים אותנו בתקופות קשות ולעזור לנו לגבור על מכשולים כנגד כל הסיכויים.

חנוכה הוא העת לא רק לחגוג את אמונת העם היהודי ואת מנהגיו, אלא להעלות על נס את השאיפות המשותפות של בני כל הדתות. בשעה שבני משפחה, חברים ושכנים נאספים יחדיו כדי להדליק את הנרות, מי יתן והלקחים של חנוכה ישמשו השראה לכולנו להודות על החסד שנפל בחלקינו, למצוא מקור אור בתקופות אופל ולפעול יחדיו למען
עתיד יותר מלא אורה ותקווה

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Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff to President Barack Obama, addresses attendees at the 2009 Hanukkah Menorah Lighting Ceremony at the Ellipse, near the south grounds of the White House

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Emmanuel joined two Rabbis in a cherry picker at the top of the menorah to ignite three oil lamps marking the 3rd night of the eight-day festival

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December 16, 2009

First Lady Michelle Obama Delivers Toys for Tots

First Lady Michelle Obama praised the soldiers and volunteers who worked on the Marine Corps program.

First Lady Michelle Obama praised the soldiers and volunteers who worked on the Marine Corps program.


First Lady Michelle Obama visits the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve’s Toy for Tots warehouse in Stafford, VA to deliver some of the more than 500 toys collected during a White House drive. Started in 1947, the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation collects and distributes toys to less fortunate children for Christmas. The program helps make sure needy children have something to unwrap on Christmas morning. The First Lady was told about an abundance of toys for younger children. She asked the public to think about needy older children when shopping for toys to donate.

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December 17, 2009

Gloria Estefan Interviews President Obama in the White House for the Univision special “Our Christmas”


In an interview for Univision, singer Gloria Estefan interviewed the President, asking the “very important question…which chimney will Santa be coming down?”

The answer: the chimney in the Yellow Room in the middle of the Residence, “so that’s where we are going to set the cookies and the milk, because after working all night, giving the gifts…. we want to make sure when it comes to the White House that he feels like he is getting good service.” The Obamas will also set out “a little reindeer snack.”

At the end of the interview the President sent seasons greetings and a call to service to viewers and military families in the Hispanic community…en Español. “En esta temporada festiva, todos queremos estar con nuestros seres queridos, pero también podemos tomar el tiempo para ayudar a nuestras comunidades. Cada persona puede hacer una gran diferencia. Michelle y yo les deseamos una Feliz Navidad.”

Translation: “In this holiday season, we would all like to be with our loved ones, but we should also take the time to help our communities. Each person can make a big difference. Michelle and I wish you a Merry Christmas.”

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December 20, 2009

The 11th Annual Christmas in Washington Concert

TNT rang in the holidays in musical style with 11th annual presentation of Christmas in Washington. Performers included were Mary J. Blige, Neil Diamond, Sugarland, Usher, Rob Thomas and Justin Bieber joined host George Lopez in this spectacular holiday celebration.

Annually attended by the President and First Lady and other Washington VIPs, Christmas in Washington is a holiday musical celebration taped at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., with proceeds going to the National Children’s Medical Center.

Before the show started, four little girls dressed as elves helped the first couple place a gift for the Children’s National Medical Center under a Christmas tree. President Obama deemed the quartet – Avery, age 4, Anna, age 6, Abigail, age 4, and Reagan, age 7 – “Santa’s little helpers,” and introduced each, replacing their last name with “Elf.”

Though Anna Elf (on the left), seemed unimpressed, telling the President: “I’ve never seen you before!” He responded, laughing, “I’ve never seen you before.”

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Sugarland's  Kristian Bush, left, Mary J Blige, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle and George Lopez sing Christmas carols

Sugarland's Kristian Bush, left, Mary J Blige, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle and George Lopez sing Christmas carols

President Obama spoke of helping those in need during the holidays, as well as honoring those in the military: “With our men and women in uniform serving far from home, in harm’s way, our fervent wish remains this season, and all seasons: Let there be peace on earth,” he said. Near the end of the show, Lopez introduced President Obama and First Lady Michelle. The President thanked the performers and offered some holiday thoughts:

This season we celebrate that sacred moment. The birth of a child, the message of the love we preach to the world. We are our brother’s keeper. We are our sister’s keeper. And pure in heart, we do unto others as we have them do unto us. We devote ourselves to good works. We are summoned to be peacemakers. More the 2,000 years later,that spirit still inspires us. That’s why this celebration tonight benefits Children’s National Medical Center and all the children whose lives they touch and they save.

That’s why so many of our fellow citizens struggle during tough times. We are called upon to help neighbors in need. That’s why, with our men and women in uniform serving far from home, in harm’s way, our fervent wish remains this season, and all seasons to let there be peace on Earth. To all Americans, from our family to yours, Merry Christmas and God bless.”

After addressing the crowd, the Obamas stayed on stage with all the performers to sing carols, starting with “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” The president wiped a tear from his eye during the sing-along.

Mary J. Blige Sings Oh Holy Night

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Usher Sings Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

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Justin Bieber Sings Some Day At Christmas

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Mary J. Blige Sings the Christmas Song

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Sugarland Sings Gold and Green

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Usher Sings Peace on Earth

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Rob Thomas Sings New York Christmas

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December 21, 2009

First Lady Michelle Obama and First Daughters Malia & Sasha Answer Kids’ Questions, While Bo Barks At Santa

President Barack Obama says the only Christmas presents he needs from his daughters are hugs.

During an interview on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, Obama said he and First Lady Michelle Obama decided several years ago not to buy each other presents. Obama says that doesn’t always save him money because he makes up for that on birthdays and Mother’s Day, but it does save him some wrapping time around the holidays.

Although the President said all he wants for Christmas is hugs from his daughters, first daughters Sasha and Malia have other plans. During a Q&A with kids at the Children’s National Medical Center on Tuesday, the girls revealed they’re getting their father “sports stuff.” They also talked about how Christmas will be different now that they’re in the White House and what they’re planning for the holidays. Bo the First dog came along for the visit.

December 21, 2009

President Obama Visits Boys & Girls Club, Reads To Children

Barack Obama brought a beloved book to read. He brought a press entourage. He brought cookies shaped like Bo the dog. Hey, he brought himself.

But the president of the United States still got a little Christmas reality Monday from a bunch of kids: High-tech toys rule.

Dashing into a Boys & Girls Club in northeast Washington, Obama asked about 25 youngsters what they wanted from Santa Claus.

An Ipod. A video game. A TV. A video game. A cell phone. A video game.

Now let me ask you a question here guys,” Obama finally said. “What ever happened to, like, asking for a bike?”

For a president snowbound in the White House, a visit to this community center was a nice mix of missions: a way to give back, a nice photo opportunity with a cute collection of children, and a chance to tell the country that the holidays are about generosity of spirit – not just gifts.

Obama took off his suit coat and read “The Polar Express,” a magical Christmas classic, holding it forward so the seated children could see the pictures.

The children paid quiet attention throughout. Obama rewarded them by grabbing his red velvet-wrapped basket of cookies and offering the children a choice of shapes: Bo the family dog, a gingerbread man or a Christmas maple leaf.


December 22, 2009

Photostream: Holidays at the White House

Holiday season at the White House began with a very simple idea: to include as many people, in as many places, in as many ways as possible. In this spirit, they’ve posted a video tour of this year’s decorations and the making of the gingerbread White House; now see the holidays through the lens of the White House Photo Office.
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December 23, 2009

The Official White House Christmas Portrait of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pose for a formal portrait in front of the official White House Christmas Tree in the Blue Room of the White House, Dec. 6, 2009

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pose for a formal portrait in front of the official White House Christmas Tree in the Blue Room of the White House, Dec. 6, 2009


December 23, 2009

First Lady Michelle Obama Reads The Night Before Christmas

First Lady Michelle Obama visits Children’s National Medial Center in Washington D.C. to read “The Night Before Christmas“. Joined by daughters Malia and Sasha, along with dog Bo, the First Lady continues this tradition of visiting with patients which dates back to Bess Truman.

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December 24, 2009

President Obama’s Weekly Address: Celebrating Christmas and Honoring Those Who Serve

For the first time in a weekly address, the President is joined by the First Lady as they celebrate Christmas. They both honor those serving overseas, those who have sacrificed for their country, and the families that stand by them. December 24, 2009.
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December 24, 2009

Mele Kalikimaka: The Obama Family’s Annual Christmas Vacation

Hawaii’s home-grown president, Barack Obama and the First Family traveled back in Honolulu on Dec. 24. They celebrated both Christmas and New Year’s in the islands.

In the past, Obama made a point of celebrating Christmas with his grandmother Madelyn Payne Dunham. The woman who raised Obama when his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was working and studying in Indonesia, died last November.

Also in past years, Obama would spend time with his sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng. The President’s sister and her husband, Konrad Ng, are also expected back in Honolulu. They were living in Washington, D.C., this year while Ng, a University of Hawaii professor, was scholar-in-residence at the Smithsonian Institution’s Asian Pacific American program.

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and their children Sasha and Malia leave the White House

The First Family Arrives In Honolulu, Hawaii

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet soldiers and their family members for Christmas during a visit to Marine Corps Base Hawaii on December 25, 2009 in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii



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Mele Kalikimaka: The Obama Family’s Annual Christmas Vacation

Honolulu Star Bulletin/Richard Borreca—Hawaii’s home-grown president, Barack Obama, is expected back in Honolulu on Dec. 23, according to sources in Washington.

The president and his family are expected to stay until Jan. 2, meaning he will celebrate both Christmas and New Year’s in the islands.

In the past, Obama made a point of celebrating Christmas with his grandmother Madelyn Payne Dunham. The woman who raised Obama when his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was working and studying in Indonesia, died last November.

Also in past years, Obama would spend time with his sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng.

Soetoro-Ng and her husband, Konrad Ng, are also expected back in Honolulu. They were living in Washington, D.C., this year while Ng, a University of Hawaii professor, was scholar-in-residence at the Smithsonian Institution’s Asian Pacific American program.

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A Very Hawaiian Health Care Bill?

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Christmas 2008

TPM/Christina Bellantoni—The White House has long been saying President Obama wants a health care bill on his desk this year.

That’s the messaging used by the DNC’s Organizing for America, pro-health reform groups and, as Brian reported this week, the Democratic leadership is prepared to work “right through Christmas.”

TPMDC followed up asking Gibbs about the First Family’s annual Hawaiian vacation. The dates aren’t public yet, but Obama will be in the Aloha state for a good chunk of time in late December.

If the bill is passed the president would be happy to sign it in Hawaii – I could think of any number of picturesque locations,” Gibbs said.

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‘America’s First Pacific President’ Reaffirms U.S.-Japan Alliance

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Audience members take pictures of President Barack Obama in Tokyo, Japan

Audience members take pictures of President Barack Obama in Tokyo, Japan

ABC/Jake Tapper—Calling himself “America’s first Pacific president,” President Barack Obama reaffirmed the alliance between the United States and Japan as one based on “equality and mutual respect,” and vowed to deepen the partnership moving forward.

Our alliance has endured because it reflects our common values — a belief in the democratic right of free people to choose their own leaders and realize their own dreams; a belief that made possible the election of both Prime Minister Hatoyama and myself on the promise of change,” the president told a crowd of Japanese leaders and citizens at Suntory Hall in Tokyo. “And together, we are committed to providing a new generation of leadership for our people, and our alliance.”

Obama said his commitment extends beyond Japan to the entire Pacific region, and that the U.S. is bound to these nations by a common past, prosperity and people.

He invoked his upbringing as a native of Hawaii with ties to Indonesia, telling the group that “the Pacific rim has helped shape my view of the world.”

The president said what happens in the region has a direct impact on American citizens.

 President Barack Obama  talks with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak during the Gala Dinner at the APEC Summit in Singapore

President Barack Obama talks with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak during the Gala Dinner at the APEC Summit in Singapore

This is where we engage in much of our commerce and buy many of our goods. And this is where we can export more of our own products and create jobs back home in the process,” Obama said.

The president also spoke about common challenges, focusing on the nuclear threat posed by Iran and North Korea.

As he has in the past, the president said Pyongyang has a clear choice: continue to pursue weapons and further isolate itself, or return to the six-party talks on a path to peace.

We will not be cowed by threats, and we will continue to send a clear message through our actions and not just our words: North Korea’s refusal to meet its international obligations will lead only to less security — not more,” Obama said.

Before departing Japan, Obama will sit down for lunch with the emperor and empress.

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