Local woman helps to decorate the White House for Christmas
By Chris Bavender
Decorating for the holidays can be fun, festive and, sometimes, downright stressful making sure everything is perfect. Now, imagine the world’s eyes on your handiwork – at the White House. For Carmel decorator, Jenny Levitin, the opportunity to help the First Family prepare for the Christmas season was a chance of a lifetime.
“I had thought about this for a long time – it’s been on my bucket list but I knew I couldn’t do it until my kids were older,” Levitin said. “It was something that I filed away in the back of my mind and thought would be really neat to do. Now that the oldest is in college and the youngest is a junior in high school I was finally freed up to do it.”
Levitin found out in October she had been selected to be one of the 2014 White House Holiday decorators. The catch – she had to be in Washington, D.C. on Thanksgiving.
“On Black Friday we hit the ground running early in the morning. The first two days we worked in a warehouse in an undisclosed location 40 minutes into the D.C. suburbs,” she said. “It was really hard work in a very chilly environment. Security was really tight. We had to sign many forms and documents as well as go through multiple checkpoints. Also, we were sworn to secrecy about the holiday theme until it was officially announced by the First Lady.”
The theme this year – “A children’s winter wonderland.”
In the warehouse the volunteer decorators made creations geared toward the winter wonderland theme.
“I worked on making big Scrabble letters with gold glitter edges that went into the State Dining room,” she said. “The Obamas love to play Scrabble just like our family does.”
When it came time to decorate, Levitin was part of the team that worked primarily on the Library and the China Room.
“We had quite a bit of creative license I thought. The White House is big on recycling ornaments, so we mixed the old and the new. I also worked outside decorating the trees on the North Portico and outside the East Entrance,” she said. “The library is a cozy room and is normally roped off for the public, but they open it up for guests for holiday parties. The President also does filming there at certain times. Over 65,000 visitors come through the White House during the holiday season so we took our job very seriously.”
Levitin’s eight days in D.C culminated with a reception hosted by the First Lady at the White House. Levitin’s husband, Howard, flew in for the event.
“The reception at the White House was an affair to remember. Seeing the White House lit up at night in party mode was a whole different perspective. With all the beautiful trees and garland glowing and the festive music playing and holiday food, it was just a magical experience,” she said. “Never in my dreams did I think I would ever get the chance to meet her, but I did! I was in the second row and had waited an hour in the crowded Grand Foyer when she came down the stairs and started shaking hands with people. She reached out to shake my hand and we talked for a few minutes. I thanked her for the opportunity of being there and I think she couldn’t believe I was thanking her! She thanked me for all my hard work and efforts. I was struck by how easy she was to talk to and how genuine she was. She seemed like a very dynamic person and incredibly pretty.”
And, another warm reception awaited Levitin when she arrived back in Indiana.
“My sons, Noah and Benji, had gotten me a dozen white roses. That was something. I think they were proud of me,” she said. “It was an opportunity of a lifetime and one I will never forget.”