White House Holiday Party

Inside a White House holiday party

When you arrive at a White House holiday party, there is a long security line out in the cold, followed by two ID checks in heated tents.

But before you even make it to the x-ray machine, Secret Service agents ask you to stop and stand “motionless” in front of a wall.  There is no visible machine, no sound, no evidence millimetre wave detectors or special lasers.

“What kind of scan is this?” I ask.

“It’s a dogscan.”

“A what?”

“A dog scan… D-O-G.”

There is, apparently, a specially-trained canine sitting behind a screen, sniffing out danger — or in my case, getting a nose full of evidence of a cat person. And it’s not the last canine we’ll encounter inside the White House, richly decked out for the holidays.

The official theme of this year’s decorations – which include no fewer than 54 Christmas trees — is “Gather Around: Stories of the Season.” But let’s face it, the real theme are the Obamas’ Portuguese Water Dogs: Bo, and his little sister, Sunny.

Some 90,000 visitors are expected during the holiday season. They enter through the East Colonnade, where there is a coat check, and decorations dedicated to military families. There is a tree dedicated to families who have lost loved ones, with ornaments placed by “Gold Star families” and a station where visitors are encourage to write postcards to troops service abroad over the holidays to thank them for their service – and to pledge volunteer hours to give back. (The holiday decorations themselves are the work of 83 volunteers, many of them military families — and many ornaments made by kids who live on military bases.)