December 8, 1999

"What can I say? I'm a Christmasaholic," admits Lakewood, Ohio, florist Bill Hixson, explaining why he has traveled to Washington each of the past 19 years to help decorate the White House for Christmas.

Bill is just one of several dozen volunteer "elves" who, under the direction of the White House Chief Florist Nancy Clarke, take time out of their own busy schedules each year to help ready the White House for the holiday season. Linda Cain, a floral designer from Arkansas, who decorated the Governor's Mansion when we lived there, has come each year since 1993, our first Christmas here.

Eddie Gage, a florist and designer from Nashua, N.H., who has come every year since 1973, holds the distinction of being the longest-serving elf. He remembers that it was President and Mrs. Nixon who first invited volunteers to help bring the magic of Christmas to the White House.

Eddie recalls that, in the early years, the decorations consisted mainly of magnolia leaves and candles. Today, the official White House Christmas tree alone, an 18 1/2-foot Noble fir that stands in the Blue Room, boasts 1,411 ornaments and 10,500 lights. There are 37 other trees in the house and on the grounds, 1,120 feet of garland, and 324 wreaths gracing the windows and colonnades -- all of which are constructed and put into place by the volunteers who work feverishly for four days in early December.

I, like Bill Hixson, am a "Christmasaholic." I love everything about the season. But even I was taken aback when, early in 1993, shortly after my husband's first inauguration, members of my staff sat down with me to begin planning for the holidays -- still almost a year away.

Choosing a theme is always the first order of business. One of the most closely guarded secrets in Washington, the theme is never disclosed until the day after the decorating is finished, when we invite members of the press in for a preview. I am particularly pleased with our choice this year -- "Holiday Treasures at the White House." Not only are we celebrating treasured holiday traditions from years gone by, but we are also honoring the many historic sites and artifacts that we are working to save as part of the White House Millennium Council's Save America's Treasures project.

For months, craftsmen and tinsmiths from across the country have been busy creating their impressions of the best of our rich national heritage. Now, gracing our wreaths and trees, the finished ornaments range from miniature Revere lanterns to candlesticks, Windsor chairs and hooked rugs -- one depicting many of the White House pets. Dollmakers have crafted original ornaments depicting significant historic figures, including Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks, and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Mantel and tabletop decorations portray just some of the historic sites that, with the help of the Save America's Treasures program, will be preserved for future generations. As visitors enter the White House, one of the first trees they see is adorned with representations of some of these sites, from the Ellis Island Ferry Building and the Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage, to Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis-Brown House, Ebenezer Baptist Church and the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum.

Over the past 18 months, I have visited many of these sites in an effort to raise awareness and the resources necessary to preserve our nation's irreplaceable heritage. The menorah in the West Wing Lobby is modeled after the historic Breed Street Shul in Los Angeles. Commissioned by the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California, it commemorates my visit there last year, one of the stops on my second "Save America's Treasures Tour."

In keeping with the Holiday Treasures theme, White House Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier has outdone himself yet again with a gingerbread tribute to some of the treasures found in and around our nation's capital. Using 120 pounds of gingerbread, over 50 pounds of marzipan and 40 pounds of chocolate, Roland and his assistants have created a masterful depiction of the White House, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument (complete with blinking, red aircraft-warning lights) and Mount Vernon. In keeping with recent tradition, the careful observer will find Socks and Buddy cavorting around the White House.

Whether they were carried here by our immigrant ancestors, or are part of our native heritage, our traditions represent the true spirit of America. From trimming evergreen Christmas trees, to lighting the candles of the menorah, we have welcomed these customs into our hearts, and adapted them to our families. Today, they have become treasured aspects of our national heritage.

This holiday season, my wish for you is that the reflections on the treasures of our past will bring a renewed spirit of peace and joy in the millennium to come.

Happy Holidays, everyone.

To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at