Bill Hixson, the owner of Hixson’s, recently returned from his trip to Washington, D.C. where, this year, he decorated Red Room of the White House.
It’s a tradition he’s kept for 30 years.
Hixson’s met and been photographed with four US presidents, going back to the Reagan Administration.
He’s also decorated a number of rooms in the White House.
This was Hixson’s third visit to the White House during the Obama Administration. And, he’s still waiting for the opportunity to meet the President — even though Hixson donated a special ornament to feature on President Obama's personal Christmas tree.
“I’ve talked to each and every one of the presidents,” Hixson said. “For three years, I have tried to meet (Obama). Next year, I am going to try to get a hug. I’m not the President, so I don’t know what it’s like. But we’re sorry we haven’t met him… yet.”
However, it’s the First Ladies who have final say on the holiday decorations.
Here are a few of his accounts over the years, offering a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the country’s leaders and their wives.
- The Reagan Era: Nancy Reagan was relatively easy to work with and would rarely intervene, unless someone suggested using the color purple or disrupted one of her social service programs, Hixson explained. Purple was prohibited in the White House during the holidays. One year, while the First Lady’s “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign was underway, a group of troubled youths was invited to the White House to hang paper snowflakes on the Blue Room tree. A decorator pulled them down, saying they didn’t mesh well with the other ornaments. Nancy took note, and needless to say, the snowflakes were promptly returned to their respective branches.
- The George H.W. Bush Era: George and Barbara Bush enjoyed spending time with Christmas staff, he said. Once, in a rare move, the First Lady asked Hixson and his peers to join her in the private living quarters. As the Bush’s pet springer spaniel (“Millie”) ran from room to room, Barbara gave them an exclusive tour of the second floor, offered light conversation and had her butler serve the group tea. That’s the only time Hixson and his 30 or so co-workers were allowed upstairs.
- The Clinton Era: Hixson quickly warmed to Bill and Hillary Clinton after they formally commended him for his years of service at the White House. Clinton extended his hand in congratulation, and Hixson quipped, “You don’t need to be good at decorating, you just need to be old.” The joking continued later on that day when the President spotted a well-dressed Hixson 15 feet off the ground on a lifted platform and yelled across the room, "I don't think I've ever seen anyone working on a cherry picker while wearing a suit."
- The George W. Bush Era: “It wasn’t President Reagan, it wasn’t President Bush—your father-in-law, it wasn’t President Clinton nor was it your husband that brought good luck, prosperity and forward motion to this country,” confessed Hixson to First Lady Laura Bush in 2008. “It was me. That’s because I’ve been hiding pickle, pig and frog ornaments on the Blue Room tree all these years.” The First Lady beamed, and later wrote to him saying that hanging the unique ornaments would become a yearly tradition at the Bush home.
- The Obama Presidency: Unlike any other president and First Lady, the Obama’s insisted that the holiday decorations be diverse and inclusive. “Whether it’s Christmas or Hanukkah and so on, it’s still the nation’s tree,” Hixson said. “It represents all portions of the country and I like the inclusivity aspect.”
John Deike contributed to this report