She looked up and saw HGTV cameras pointed at her.

Along with 88 other volunteers from across the country, Macri spent three days decorating the White House for Christmas.

“Working in the East Room was the best,” she said. “That’s where they hold all the state dinners.”

She saw the first family’s dogs, Bo and Sonny. “Gorgeous dogs!”

She climbed ladders to decorate trees. She got choked up seeing history firsthand, paintings of John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln and John Adams’ prayer for presidents engraved in the State Dining Room. “I kept dragging people over to see that,” she said.

Macri arrived in Washington last week and worked on decorating Friday through Tuesday. On Wednesday night she attended a White House reception where this year’s holiday look was unveiled.

Macri, 67, said she’s enjoyed amazing experiences in her life, but “this was the most extraordinary thing I’ve done.”

How she became a White House decorator

Last year, Macri was watching an HGTV special on how the White House was decorated for Christmas. The show mentioned volunteers who do the work.

She wondered how one becomes one of those volunteers. She researched it and wrote to the White House social secretary. She got an email back informing her of the application form.

Macri filled out the form with her essay on how as a former American history teacher, the White House and the nation’s capital meant so much to her.

In October, she found out she was selected. “I almost lost my mind,” she said.

After arriving in Washington, D.C., and meeting other decorators, Macri discovered many were professional designers or had military contacts. Some were teachers. “I realized how lucky I was to be there,” she said.

The first two days, Nov. 28 and 29, she spent in the White House warehouse sorting and organizing boxes and boxes of ornaments, ribbons, garland and things that sparkle.

Some of the ornaments date back to the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

“Gorgeous,” Macri said. “We organized pallets for each room making sure all the correct boxes were on the same pallet, painted white ceramic stars gold, made pink ball garlands apparently destined for (first lady) Michelle’s (Obama’s) office. I worked with more square footage of ribbon than I have purchased in my entire life.”

On Sunday, volunteers started decorating the White House.

“To be there and use my hands to help create beauty was such a joy,” Macri said. Working in the Green Room, she looked out the window and saw President Barack Obama boarding Marine One about 50 yards away.

With four others, she spent the day in the Green Room working on four trees, hanging silver, white and clear glass ornaments.

Her favorites were heavy silver ornaments engraved with acorns with bronze caps that she suspected date back to the Wilson administration or earlier.

Meanwhile, HGTV was there filming for this year’s special that will air later this month.

Volunteers worked under the supervision of professional designers. At one point decorators were having trouble getting the mantle garlands just right; mantles were decorated only to have the decorations taken down, Macri said.

Finally, three women assembled a mantle garland in the Red Room that won approval.

Decorating in the East Room

A separate team was formed to tackle the remaining mantles in the East Room, the Blue Room and two huge window wreaths in the Green Room.

A supervisor who had been watching Macri insisted they take her lead. She liked Macri’s work. Being selected surprised Macri, who said, “I’m not a designer; I’m a history teacher.” The supervisor wanted her anyway.

On Tuesday, Macri was in the East Room tasked with designing mantles to complement the White House tree decorated with red, white and blue to honor the military. The mantles were not to be understated but not overdone; to be decorated with stars and garland of cedar and pine.

As she worked, Macri thought the mantles looked a bit sparse. “I got gold branches used on the Christmas tree. The branches pulled the whole thing together with the tree and the gold mirrors in the room.”

Another volunteer cautioned that wasn’t what the head designer asked for. Macri suggested the supervisor look at it before they took it down. The head designer liked Macri’s touch. It stayed.

After that she and a few others created a 10-foot topiary from silver ornaments for the entrance door to the West Wing.

On Thursday, Macri was returning to Maine, grateful and pinching herself about her experience.

She said she will not apply to decorate the White House again.

“I want someone else to have the chance,” she said.

[email protected]

2015 Christmas White House theme: A Timeless Tradition

Highlights of the holiday decor:

* Only 10 percent of design materials were new; remaining 90 percent were from White House holiday inventory

* Throughout the White House there are 62 Christmas trees and more than 70,000 ornaments

* The Blue Room tree is over 18 feet tall. It is a Fraser fir grown in Pennsylvania and considered the official White House Christmas tree, decorated in red, white and blue and gold to honor military members and their families.

* In the East Room is the creche, a nativity scene fashioned in Naples, Italy, in the 18th century. It’s sat in the East Room during the holidays for 45 years, or nine presidential administrations.

* More than 68,000 guests expected to visit the White House during the Christmas season

* Hanging from the ceiling of the East Colonnade are 56 snowflakes representing every state and territory with iconic symbols, plus snowflakes made by students. Nearby are 56 “snow people” representing the states and territories.

For more information: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/12/02/2015-white-house-holidays-timeless-tradition


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