WASHINGTON, Nov. 29 (UPI) -- First lady Michelle Obama welcomed the families of U.S. service members to the White House on Tuesday for an early view of this year's presidential holiday decorations.
The official White House Christmas tree was accepted by Obama on Friday and she welcomed military families as part of the Joining Forces initiative, which aims to "ensure that service members, veterans, and their families have the tools they need to succeed throughout their lives."
"Thank you to all of the volunteers who traveled here from 33 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico, to come here and put up these beautiful decorations and transform this White House into this holiday wonderland" Obama said in her opening remarks. "As we celebrate my family's last holiday season in the White House, I'm thinking back to when we first came here to Washington -- and we promised to open up this house to as many people from as many backgrounds as possible."
"In our eighth and final holiday season, we're celebrating the theme, 'The Gift of the Holidays' -- the gift of family and friends, reflection and remembrance, and excitement and cheer," White House Social Secretary Deesha Dyer said earlier in a statement. "It all begins six months ahead of time with input from Mrs. Obama along with a talented team of designers who come up with amazing and festive concepts and sketches for the entire White House, the private residence, and the West Wing [including the Oval Office]."
This year, the traditional military tribute has been moved to the East Garden Room of the White House to "allow more space for guests to reflect and send messages to those serving abroad," Dyer added.
"On behalf of the entire Obama family -- me, Barack, Malia, Sasha, grandma, Bo and Sonny -- we are so proud of this team here, so proud of the time we have spent with you, so grateful for everything you've done for us" the first lady added. "Before I get choked up, let me officially kick off our final White House holiday season."