Reversing Roles At The Last White House Holiday Party

Mark Knoller is a White House Correspondent for CBS News.
(White House/Eric Draper)
If you think you're in holiday overload, consider the president and first lady.

Last evening, they hosted the last of 25 holiday receptions, events and programs that have brought upwards of 10,000 invited guests to the White House since Nov. 29.

These were parties for friends, political donors and supporters, administration officials, members of Congress, the news media and the Secret Service, among others.

And the Bushes stood for photos with nearly each and every one of their invitees. That's a lot of holiday handshaking.

Guests got to roam freely on the State Floor of the White House, the halls of which are decked to the ceiling with plenty more than boughs of holly.

The holiday finery includes countless garlands, lights and 33 trees of different sizes including the 18-foot Fraser fir in the Blue Room that serves as the official White House Christmas Tree. And all the decorations reflect the theme for this year's festivities as selected by Laura Bush: "Holiday in the National Parks."

And talk about a lavish holiday feedbag. Guests grazed at a sumptuous buffet laden with platters of chilled gulf shrimp, bourbon-glazed Virginia ham, crispy chicken-fried steak fingers and roasted lamb chops. The desserts were no less opulent and included an array of cookies in the shapes of trees, leaves and animals including Bush Family doggies Barney and Miss Beazley. The White House estimates that 20,000 cookies were baked for the events. Twenty thousand!

Parties like these cost a fortune. The White House won't say how much — but offers assurances that they were all paid for by the Republican National Committee, which won't disclose a price-tag either.

Last evening's final reception was special in that it involved a role reversal of sorts. The guests included members of the staff of the White House residence who spent December helping to produce all the other gatherings. Those invited were ushers, florists, electricians and kitchen staff, among others.

Taking their place as servers at the party were members of the White House senior staff including Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, Counsel Fred Fielding, Counselor to the President Ed Gillespie and Press Secretary Dana Perino.

"It was a lot of fun," says Perino this morning. She was assigned to the hot beverage station, serving up coffee and hot cocoa with marshmallows.

"I don't know why they kept me away from the alcohol and desserts," she jokes.

She says guests were surprised to see top White House officials filling in as servers, the men wearing tuxedoes.

Pity the senior staff didn't serve at the press party.

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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.