Dennis Braiser at the White HouseHe spent one long day helping sort through hundreds of boxes of previously used Christmas decorations. He spent the next two days wrapping strands of lights onto live pine trees. And through each step of each day, Dennis Brasier couldn’t stop thinking about the honor and privilege of being chosen to help decorate the White House for Christmas.

Dennis, a mortgage closer with INB, was chosen from among over 7,000 applicants and recently profiled in the State Journal-Register. He was one of about 50 of the 130 volunteers who put lights on the 55 trees now shimmering in the White House.

Before taking on this task, Dennis’ holiday decorating was limited to his tree at home and lights on the house. But in August, he received an email put out by President Donald Trump soliciting volunteers. He filled out the form, and was notified in October that he had been chosen for the task. Dennis says the decorating team is made up primarily of veterans and their families. He served in the Marine Corps from 1997 to 2001.

“Our first day (Monday, Nov. 19) was spent in a warehouse sorting decorations,” he says. Because a contingent of military personnel take down all the decorations as quickly as possible after the holidays, they simply throw all the ornaments and trim into boxes. This means things aren’t always quite perfect when it comes time to reuse them.  One of his tasks was to go through a box of gold leaves, pulling out the ones that weren’t reusable. This took about two hours.

Step Into the White House

Dennis Braiser, Christmas tree at the White House

After day one, Dennis and about 30 other volunteers were picked to go to the White House to string lights on the trees. The rest of the volunteers stayed behind and to continue to pull together materials that would later materialize as the tree designer’s vision. This included adhering thousands of artificial cranberries to create a forest of 40 red topiary trees.

But as for Dennis, he spent Nov. 20 and 21 wrapping lights to Christmas trees. But rather than the traditional method of wrapping a strand around a tree, he learned how to wrap each branch of a pine tree.  “You start on the inside of the tree, wrap around and around until you get to the outside of the branch, then bring the strand back to the center.” At first, Dennis wasn’t sure of the method and even questioned the look.  He was told to “wait and see” what happens as the tree opens up after the wrapping process. That time made all the difference. The designer also explained that by wrapping from the inside out, they could place ornaments in the tree, not just on the outer part of the branches.

Because he wasn’t afraid of heights, he and one other team member “got to” stand on a 15-foot ladder or scaffolding to light the top of the trees. Dennis said the work left him covered in sap and with cut up hands and arms.

HGTV was on site taping the annual White House Christmas program.  At one point, the camera operator focused on Dennis for nearly five minutes. “I kept saying to myself, ‘Look at the tree. Look at the tree. Don’t look at the camera.’”

Time to Head Home

Dennis left the White House the day before Thanksgiving, leaving the job of decorating the trees to other volunteers. Given he hadn’t seen a finished product, he was especially pleased when he was able to go back to Washington, DC for an annual holiday reception that signals the start of the Christmas season. While Dennis had to pay his own airfare and room and board on his first trip, INB picked up his expenses for the return journey.