Michelle Obama shares White House holiday traditions, from decor to Mariah Carey

Michelle Obama talked about the first family's holiday traditions in the latest issue of Ladies Home Journal.
Michelle Obama talked about the first family's holiday traditions in the latest issue of Ladies Home Journal.Alexei Hay / Ladies Home Journal

Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter
By Marisa Kabas

Want a peek at what Christmas is like in the White House? Here's a hint: It involves listening to Mariah Carey.

First Lady Michelle Obama opened up about her family's holiday traditions in the December/January issue of Ladies' Home Journal, and said that despite living in the most famous house in the world, their activities this time of year haven’t changed much.

Michelle Obama talked about her family's holiday traditions in the latest issue of Ladies Home Journal.Alexei Hay / Today

Once the residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is decorated, Michelle, Barack, Sasha and Malia Obama spend a lot of time entertaining.

“We have a reception almost twice a day, every day, until December 21,” said the first lady. “That means hors d'oeuvres and eggnog and cookies for every guest who comes through. The house smells incredible for an entire month.”

But, she noted, the holiday snacks aren't too damaging on the first couple’s famously sleek physiques. “We're in a receiving line or a photo line, greeting people, so fortunately there's very little time for us to eat,” she said.

During the holidays, the house is filled with trees of all shapes, sizes and meanings, and Michelle mentioned that they like to pay special homage to service men and women.

The first lady says her family knows it's holiday time by her playlist.Alexei Hay / Today

“We've always dedicated the Christmas tree in the Blue Room, which has the largest tree in house, to the military families," she told the magazine. "This year we're going to decorate it with photos of military homecomings. We're also asking military families to share their traditions, and those will be reflected in the ornaments as well.”

She also said that she makes sure to set aside at least one tree for her girls to decorate: “Usually it's the tree in the Yellow Oval room. 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.”

Not surprisingly, her playlist isn’t so different from any of ours. “I have a phenomenal playlist that includes, of course, 'A Charlie Brown Christmas,' as well as James Taylor, Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, and Nat King Cole," she revealed. "The kids tease me that they know it's Christmas when I pull out my playlist.”

Alexei Hay / Today

Michelle makes sure not to forget her humble upbringing, and has taken one tradition in particular from her modest Chicago childhood home into the present. “Our extended family was so large, people couldn't really afford to buy gifts for everyone," she recalled. "So a couple of our aunts would go out and purchase small gifts. They would put them in a basket and in order to get a gift you had to perform. Everyone from the smallest to the tallest, from the oldest to the youngest, had to perform something. You could tell a joke, read a poem, do a backflip — anything counted.”

She says in the past she’s done a trick with Bo (the Obama’s Portuguese Water dog), the girls have put on plays, and the president has been known to sing a song or two.

When it comes to gifts for the girls, Michelle says they keep it limited because, Sasha and Malia "understand that anything they need they already have.” Instead, the family focuses on giving to others and supports Toys for Tots. "I try to remind people to purchase for a broad age group — people love to buy the little kids toys, but there are also teenagers to think about. Teens love electronic learning games and you can never go wrong with giving them clothes."

As has become tradition, the Obamas will spend this Christmas in the president’s home state of Hawaii having a “peaceful day” just enjoying time with family and friends.