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First Lady Offers Emotional Thank You to White House Holiday Visitors

An Inside Look at the White House's Christmas Decorations 1:26

Christmas carols drifted from a grand piano as the White House unveiled the First Family's final Christmas décor display.

It is a lush and stunning array of ornaments, trees, lights, ribbons festooning a place First Lady Michelle Obama said she took pride in opening "to as many people from as many backgrounds as possible". She grew emotional as she spoke of the gratitude she felt both for the military families present and those who work behind the scenes to make the event so memorable.

Image: Michelle Obama Hosts Military Families For Holiday Gathering At White House
First Lady Michelle Obama, with the First Family's dogs Sunny and Bo, greets children of military families as they make holiday crafts and treats during the unveiling of the 2016 holiday decorations in the theme of 'The Gift of the Holidays,' in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, Nov.29, 2016. Olivier Douliery / ABACA USA

"So before I get choked up," she said. "Let me officially kick off our final White House holiday season."

Themed "The Gifts of the Holidays," the display is meant to "reflect on not only the joy of giving and receiving, but also the true gifts of life, such as service, friends and family, education and good health as we celebrate the holiday season," read a statement from the first lady.

At her traditional ceremony, with military families as the first guests invited to see the decorations, the First Lady reflected back on the goal her family set when they first arrived eight years ago to welcome as many people to the White House as possible.

"We've worked hard to achieve that goal by welcoming almost half a million guests to this hose during the season," the First Lady said.

Image: Preview of the Christmas decorations at the White House
The White House Christmas decorations are seen during a press preview on Nov. 29, 2016 in Washington, DC. Olivier Douliery / Abaca USA

Over the years, the White House has been adorned with about half a million ornaments —70,000 this year alone. White House pastry chefs have baked some 200,000 holiday cookies.

And 92 volunteers from 33 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico have spent countless hours since Thanksgiving decorating the White House.

The annual White House Gingerbread House in the State Dining Room was made from 150 pounds of gingerbread, 100 pounds of bread dough, and a lot of sugar.

Each state and U.S. territory have gingerbread houses as well made from some 200,000 LEGOS. The First Lady's office reports a team of "Master Builders" spent some 500 hours designing and building the State Dining Room gingerbread displays.

The theme of "Gifts" also focuses on many of the first lady's major initiatives. A giant red white and blue American flag installation is covered with pictures of the Obamas with military families. Gold Stars and ornaments hang from a Christmas tree honoring those who've given their lives. There are also iPads available in the hopes that visitors will send messages to the troops.

In the library downstairs, which contains 2,700 books, Christmas trees made of crayons and pencils, honor "the gift of education." Special ornaments spell out the word "girl" in 12 different languages, paying tribute to the First Lady's "Let Girls Learn Initiative".

Image: Holiday Decor at the White House
The White House hosts a press preview of the 2016 holiday decor at the White House in Washington, DC, USA, Nov. 29, 2016. The majority of the holiday decor was designed by Rafanelli Events and executed by 92 volunteers from across the country. Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA

The "Let's Move" initiative inspired wreaths adorned with such fruit as oranges, apples, lemons and limes. The display also represents the "The Gift of Good Health" and the White House Kitchen Garden.

There's a huge literal interpretation of a gift box outside the East Visitor entrance and large replicas of First Dogs Sunny and Bo made from 25,000 yarn pom-poms in the entry hallway. In the East Colonnade 7,500 multi-colored ribbons hang.

There are 6,000 "snowball ornaments in the Lower Cross Hall and a 19 foot Douglas Fir in the Blue Room that just arrived from a tree farm in Pennsylvania.

Some 68,000 guests are expected to visit the White House during the holiday season.

"This has been one of our favorite White House traditions," the First Lady said to the military families visiting the White House on Tuesday. "Our military families like all of you remind us of what matters," she said. "It's that kind of commitment to truly serving others, that's what the holidays are truly about, and that's what we honor with our holiday decorations every year at the White House."