UNIVERSITY PARK — The George W. Bush Presidential Library has a special Christmas exhibit that will offer visitors a unique opportunity to view decorations from 2001 that few Americans got to see.
Security concerns in the weeks following the September 11, 2001 attacks closed the White House doors to thousands who traditionally visit the mansion during the holidays.
As in many American homes, the Christmas tree is the centerpiece of Home for the Holidays — Christmas at the White House 2001.
The 18-foot artificial tree sparkles and dazzles, accented by 90 tiny houses handcrafted by American artisans. First lady Laura Bush actually selected the theme months before 9/11, but after the national tragedy, White House tours were halted for security concerns and "Home for the Holidays" became an even more important symbol for a country at war.
"So this is a chance for people to get to see the decorations that many people didn't get to see that very first year," Mrs. Bush said. "It was a time of sadness for our whole country, but also a time really of comfort to be with your family members at Christmas."
White House workers also made all 18 models of Presidential homes on display — from George Washington's Mt. Vernon to the present-day mansion.
President Bush was the first president to light a Hanukkah menorah at the White House, and it's on display at the library, too.
Two holiday ball gowns worn by the first lady are also on featured.
Some Christmas ornaments are being offered in the Bush Center gift shop. The hot seller is a tiny copy of President Bush's original painting of a cardinal, priced at $29.
The president is painting landscapes, animals and more.
"He has painted me," Laura Bush said. "It needs some work!"
This Christmas, there's added joy as the Bush family celebrates with grandbaby Mila, a new generation sharing family traditions.
"I would decorate the tree with the little girls, my little twins when they were little, and they would sit under the tree and wait for me to bring the hot chocolate," Mrs. Bush said, "but really it's just a time to be together."