From Hawaii, Obamas thank troops and offer Christmas wishes

President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama disembark Air Force One at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for their winter vacation on December 21, 2013, in Honolulu, Hawaii. The president and his family spend the Christmas holiday in Hawaii, Obama's birthplace. Cory Lum - Pool/Getty Images

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama wished a Merry Christmas to Americans celebrating the holiday and thanked troops who are serving during the holidays in the president's weekly address.

“This is a season for millions of Americans to be together with family, to continue long-held holiday traditions, and to show our gratitude to those we love.  And along the way, some of us might even watch a little basketball or eat some Christmas cookies, too,” Mr. Obama said.

Michelle Obama noted that some of the White House holiday decorations, in the theme of “Gather Around: Stories of the Season,” honored troops, veterans and military families.

“Our extraordinary men and women in uniform are serving so that the rest of us can enjoy the blessings we cherish during the holidays.  But that means many of our troops are far from home and far from family.  They’re spending some extra time on the phone with their loved ones back home. Or they’re setting up video chats so they can watch as the presents are opened.  So today, we want all of our troops to know that you’re in our thoughts and prayers this holiday season,” Mr. Obama said, adding that many troops and new veteran will be spending their first Christmas in years with their families with the war in Iraq over and the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan winding down.

“That’s something we all can be thankful for,” Michelle Obama said. She and the president encouraged people to reach out and help those in their communities “who could use a hand up.”

The Obama family departed for their annual vacation in Kailua, Hawaii, Friday evening, where the president has spent time golfing with friends and staffers, going to the beach and restaurants with his family, and working out in the gym at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay. The Obamas also attended the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic at the University of Hawaii, where he wanted the University of Akron play Oregon State University, where Michelle Obama’s brother, Craig Robinson, is the head coach of the basketball team.

On Christmas Eve, Michelle Obama helped answer calls from children as part of the annual “NORAD Tracks Santa” program run by Northern American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). The first lady has made a tradition of fielding calls, which began in 1955 after a local newspaper ad gave out a misprinted telephone number for children to call Santa, which was actually the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. The commander on duty gave a young child who called information on the supposed whereabouts of Santa, and the program was continued when NORAD was formed in 1958.

The program went digital in 1998, and now millions of unique visitors from around the globe track Santa’s location each year, or they can call a live Operations Center staffed with more than 1,200 volunteers. This is Michelle Obama’s fourth year participating in the program.

The vacation hasn’t been all play for the president, though. He has been briefed on the ongoing violence in South Sudan, and told Congress Sunday that he may take further military action to protect Americans in the country. He is also studying recommendations on ways to reform the National Security Administration’s data collection program made by the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies that he commissioned.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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