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Cynthia Gordy

It's officially the holiday season at the White House, where 85,000 visitors are expected to tour in the month of December alone. Kicking things off on Wednesday, first lady Michelle Obama welcomed military families (and a pack of media folks) for the first viewing of this year's holiday decorations.

"We're using the holiday season here at the White House to highlight our troops and our veterans, and all of their families, through this year's theme, which is 'Share, Give, Shine,' " said Mrs. Obama after an introduction from Jennifer Jackman of American Gold Star Mothers, an organization for mothers who have lost a son or daughter who was serving in the military. "Throughout the house, we've found creative ways to pay tribute to folks like all of you."

The special touches are an extension of the first lady's military-family advocacy. In April she and Jill Biden launched "Joining Forces," an initiative to encourage individuals, businesses and institutions to do more to help military families.

Among the holiday decorations -- which made use of simple materials such as paper, felt and even trash bags and recycled cans -- are a tree adorned with ornaments, with a space for visiting Gold Star families to write their loved one's name, and another with cards collected from military children around the country.

Other unique touches include a replica of Bo the dog in every room, 37 Christmas trees and a 400-pound gingerbread White House, coated with white chocolate and marzipan.

The holiday decor was completed with the help of 136 volunteers from around the country, including Jacqueline Hill, an African-American decorator from Redding, Pa. "I just wanted to serve and be a part of this," Hill told The Root. She wrote a letter to the White House last year vying for a volunteer spot before finally getting word in August that she had been selected. "At first I thought it was a friend playing a joke on me!"

All photos by Cynthia Gordy, The Root's Washington editor.