FLOTUS welcomes the White House Christmas tree

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WASHINGTON -- It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the White House.

First lady Michelle Obama kicked off her final decking of the halls Friday, welcoming this year's official White House Christmas tree to the Blue Room, an annual tradition since 1966.

The first lady watched as the tree was delivered atop a horse-drawn carriage on the front White House drive, the sound of jingle bells on the horses, and a four-piece military band playing "O Christmas Tree."

She was joined by nephews Austin and Aaron Robinson, first pets Bo and Sunny, and national tree contest award winners Dave and Mary Vander Velden, of Oconto, Wisconsin.

"These are our replacement kids," Obama joked of her young nephews, saying one of her teenage daughters was still asleep.

She congratulated the Vander Veldens on their winning tree.

But the Vander Veldens' tree was not quite tall or full enough in time due to Wisconsin weather conditions this season. Instead, an alternate 19-foot Douglas fir from Pennsylvania took its place, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. The Wisconsin tree will still be on display elsewhere in the White House.

"Unfortunately nature was not on his (Dave Vander Velden's) side and none of his trees grew to meet the specifications of height and fullness needed for the Blue Room. Our association selects the winners every other year and this can happen," said Ann O'Connor of the National Christmas Tree Association.

The tree's arrival kicks off a whirlwind of White House holiday decoration. Volunteers will now be busy preparing the home's interior for the holidays, with a media preview set for Tuesday.

"This is the easiest part of the holiday season," the first lady said, inspecting the tree and wishing nearby reporters happy holidays before returning inside.

The holiday festivities continue Thursday evening when the first family will light the National Christmas Tree, a permanent Colorado blue spruce planted outside on the Ellipse, in a ceremony hosted by Eva Longoria featuring musical guests including Kelly Clarkson, Chance the Rapper, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood.