Updated at: 12/04/2013 5:06 PM
By DARLENE SUPERVILLE
(AP) WASHINGTON - The familiar black dog with the white chest and white front paws starred in past Christmases in President Barack Obama’s White House, but America’s first pooch had to let someone else in the picture this holiday season: his little sister, Sunny.
Sunny stole the spotlight outright when 2-year-old Ashtyn Gardner, of Mobile, Ala., lost her balance and dropped to the carpet when Michelle Obama led the leashed puppy (a separate handler held Bo) into the State Dining Room, where the first lady and military children had been decorating cookie ornaments, making tissue-paper flowers and using dried fruit to make tiny wreaths.
Two life-sized replicas of the Portuguese water dogs, made from black satin ribbon, are one of the first things people will see this month as an expected 70,000 visitors stream in to the White House for tours and holiday functions. Both dogs wag their tails and Bo gives a high-five. They are surrounded by Christmas trees made of books.
The pets, dark chocolate miniature versions, are also part of the annual gingerbread White House display. Both dogs hang out near a functioning replica of the fountain on the North Lawn. The illuminated, edible White House sits on top of a life-sized fireplace fashioned from more than 1,200 Springerle cookies. The entire display weighs about 300 pounds and is trashed after the holidays due to its prolonged exposure to so many people.
Michelle Obama, who has emphasized support for military families, gave some of them a first look at the decked-out White House halls on Wednesday. She asked Americans gathering with friends and family for the holidays to also remember the men and women in uniform.
"During this holiday season, as we gather with our loved ones, I’d ask every American to remember what our military families and service members often experience during this time of year," Mrs. Obama said. "Let us all remember the sacrifices they make to proudly serve all of us."
An annual highlight of the decorations is the official White House Christmas Tree. This year it’s a towering 18 1/2-foot Douglas fir from Lehighton, Pa., that fills the oval-shaped Blue Room. It honors military families, a holiday tradition of Mrs. Obama’s, and among its trimmings are photos of their joyous homecomings.
This year’s White House Christmas theme, "Gather Around: Stories of the Season," focuses on stories behind American holiday traditions.
"Our goal is for every room and every tree to tell a story about who we are and how we gather around one another to mark the holidays," Mrs. Obama said.
Wednesday’s event ushers in a month of holiday entertaining at the White House, with the president and first lady playing host at parties for volunteers, members of Congress, White House staff, Secret Service, White House reporters and others from around the country. There will be a reception practically twice a day, every day, until just a few days before Christmas, Mrs. Obama told Ladies’ Home Journal in a holiday-themed interview.
Visitors will see a total of two dozen Christmas trees on display, all of them exquisitely decorated by some of the 83 volunteers who flew in from around the country to participate in the annual weekend marathon of tree trimming, wreath hanging and other decorating.
Somewhere, in the midst of all that hustle and bustle, the Obamas, including daughters Malia and Sasha, will take time to decorate a 25th tree: their very own upstairs in the residence on the second floor.
"One of the things the kids always request, because we have dozens of trees all over the White House that are decorated by volunteers, is that they decorate one of the trees themselves. Usually it’s the tree in the Yellow Oval Room," Mrs. Obama told Ladies’ Home Journal. "We’ll have hot chocolate, light a fire no matter what the weather is, get out a basket of decorations, and then I’ll put on the first holiday music of the season."
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(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)