This holiday season my military children and I were offered the special opportunity to tour the White House. If ever there is a time to visit this historic estate, it is while adorned in holiday splendor.
We live in Fort Meade, Maryland and have the fortunate ability to be in downtown Washington DC within an hour. As avid travelers, history buffs and art fanatics, we value our proximity to such significant sites and culture. When my friend who serves in the Air Force, invited us to apply for a self-guided tour, we jumped at the chance.
The day before our tour, we learned that my husband wouldn’t be able to join us because the Army needed him. Fortunately, I am not afraid to travel alone or with my children as the sole adult, and was ready for an adventure.
We were to meet our group at 8:45 the following morning, and because I was flying solo and commuter traffic around DC is murder, I made a spontaneous change of plans. (The Army wasn’t the only one with that trick up their sleeve!) I jumped on the computer and scored a last-minute historic hotel in DC on Booking.com. I surprised the boys with news of our big adventure, packed a backpack and headed to the city with two excited children.
We checked into the 100-year-old Hotel Harrington and soaked in the nighttime view from our 7th floor room. The three of us cozied up in our king sized bed, and eventually the excitement subsided and sleep consumed us.
The following morning the boys and I walked for three minutes to Ford’s Theater. Across the street was Lincoln’s Waffle Shop, which I was excited to try. Inside, I sipped on hot coffee and dove into my chicken and waffles, while my boys ate pancakes with blueberries and chocolate chips, respectively.
We then made the leisurely 10-minute stroll through city blocks, past large buildings and statues and met up with our group.
After verifying our boarding passes and identification, and going through security checks, we received the “all clear” from Secret Service Agents. My children were handed Junior Ranger Activity Guides and I received a booklet on holidays at the White House.
The Magic of the White House
Although it mildly resembled herding cats, my children, our friends, and I enjoyed the tour thoroughly. In addition to the historic relevance, incredible collection of paintings, books, photographs, china and more, the White House sparkled with lights, trees, glass balls and garland.
Some of the highlights included:
- Posing with representations of the First Family’s dogs, Bo and Sunny, in the East Visitor Entrance.
- Spotting Christmas photographs of former Presidents and First Ladies in the East Colonnade. (I made sure to snap a shot of both the Obamas and the Kennedys.)
- Taking a photo by the gold star tree in the East Garden Room, which pays tribute to our nation’s service members who have given their lives for our country.
- Peeking into the roped off Library, Vermeil and China Rooms.
- Walking through the East Room which was significant for a number of reasons: it held a portrait of George Washington that was saved by Dolly Madison during a fire; the bodies of Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy were brought here after their assassinations; and President Roosevelt celebrated Christmas in this room in 1903 with more than 500 children.
- Passing through the colorful Green, Blue and Red Rooms, one which held an iconic 17.5 foot Christmas tree.
- Admiring the gingerbread White House on display in the State Dining Room. Fun fact — this year’s house is made of 150 pounds of gingerbread!
- Finalizing our tour through the Grand Foyer and Cross Hall while the air was filled with holiday music. A pianist accompanied the beautiful voices of the Williamsport (PA) Area High School Millionaire Singers. Their music filled us with the holiday spirit before taking one final look and exiting outside to the cold December day.
A Message from the Obamas
In closing, I’ll share some words from the Obamas from my holiday booklet: “This joyous season is always filled with opportunities to perform acts of kindness and goodwill. Whether by expressing gratitude to a service member, offering a token of appreciation to a teacher, or sharing moments of love and laughter with our neighbors, all of us can extend hands of friendship and reflect on what it means to be a part of our American family. As a Nation, may we continue to hold this season’s spirit close to our hearts in the year ahead. From our family to yours, happy holidays!”
A self-described “Jackie of All Trades,” Army wife Jackie Toops is a mother of two and enjoys writing, travel, art, languages, slow cooking and peaceful parenting. She studied Interdisciplinary Humanities, Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management, and has overseen public relations for museums, galleries and universities. She is a contributing author for Wall Street International Magazine and has discussed her articles on-air with AFN Wiesbaden. She’s usually seen adventuring with her Canon, a coffee and two small children. Follow her on Twitter.
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