WHAT: White House Christmas 2011
WHEN: 9 p.m. and midnight tonight, 6 p.m. Saturday
A year ago, Marie Grieco was watching the HGTV special on the White House's Christmas decorations when host Genevieve Gorder asked a volunteer decorator how he got on the show. He said he had simply written a letter.
"I thought, 'If he can write a letter, I can write a letter,' " says the caterer and 34-year resident of Dumont.
So in June — with an inspirational push from Oprah, who said that wondrous things can happen in anyone's life — Grieco wrote to Michelle Obama. In her letter she discussed growing up with her father, a "patriotic Marine who fought in Iwo Jima" and who later sold Christmas trees in New York City. He would bring home the best of the lot, and daughter Marie — the self-described "creative one of the family" — took over the annual decorating of the tree.
Having all but forgotten about the letter, she received a response in September asking her to fill out an online application to visit the White House. A few weeks later, she got an email from the White House social secretary with a congratulatory message. A background check secured her spot, and she received confirmation in October. She would be one of 136 volunteer decorators from around the country. And this year she is in the HGTV special she watched from home last year.
All volunteers pay their own travel expenses and need to be at the White House the day after Thanksgiving. Every penny was well spent, according to Grieco.
"I felt so fortunate to be a part of this entire experience," she says.
This year's White House holiday decorating theme was "Shine, Give, Share," meant to celebrate and give thanks to the military, and to show people that they can impact others by giving and sharing.
For the first two days, spent at a preparatory facility outside of D.C., Grieco created ornaments with military patches and medals, working with a woman whose husband was killed in Afghanistan. Grieco listened to the young widow's story and took great care to make sure each ornament was perfect.
For the three days in the White House, Grieco's team was assigned to the China Room. They had to hold off on the decorating until a gingerbread house was finished there, so she helped out in other rooms, soaking in the environment. (She even caught a glimpse of President Obama and his oldest daughter, Malia, walking down the hall.)
Once in the China Room, she worked on the mantel using magnolia garland, gold-trimmed maroon ribbon, glass ornaments and metallic berries.
Grieco says everyone she met – from the other volunteers to White House staff – couldn't have been nicer. She will never forget the feelings those days inspired in her.
She ended her annual holiday letter to family and friends this way: "I will treasure this experience for the rest of my life. Each act of service touches others in ways that we will never see, so shine, give and share this holiday season."