‘Tis the season! While families from all around the world are preparing to decorate their homes for the holiday season, it doesn’t compare to the planning and preparations made to make the White House ready for Christmas. Here are all the things you didn’t know about the White House Christmas tree, from former White House florist Laura Dowling.

The First Lady selects the annual theme

White-house-ChristmasCourtesy Knudsen Robert L. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Selecting the decor of the White House during the Christmas season begins with the First Lady, a tradition that started with First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy in 1961. (She chose a “Nutcracker Suite” theme.) “[Kennedy’s] theme made a statement that was personal and meaningful; it was both fully representative of her elegant taste and articulated a uniquely American sense of style,” Laura Dowling wrote in her book, A White House Christmas. “Jackie Kennedy’s move opened up the door for every First Lady to put her own creative and personal stamp on the iconic White House Christmas.” Find out more fascinating facts about all of America’s First Ladies.

It takes a year to plan—and five days to execute

White-house-christmasCourtesy Chuck Kennedy Official White House Photo

Believe it or not, it takes an entire year to plan the White House decorations. The process requires a lot of planning with sketches, different color palettes, design elements, and motifs for each space and room in the White House. Planning is also divided into three phases: design and development, creation and implementation, and project installation. Once concepts are pitched and presented to the First Lady, she then confirms the theme for the year, and the White House florist executes it within five days after Thanksgiving. “White House Christmas themes need to be both inspirational and practical, encompass concepts that capture a sense of the American spirit and resonate broadly—and they must translate into beautiful decorations that tell a cohesive story room by room,” says Dowling. “The best themes always coordinate well with the classical White House architecture and furnishings, are cognizant of White House traditions, and take into account the context of the current political and cultural environments.” We love these creative Christmas tree decorations, ourselves.

Volunteers are key

White-house-christmasCourtesy A White House Christmas Including Floral Design Tutorials 2

To make this strict deadline before the holiday season, over 100 volunteers help sort, set up, assemble, and hang White House Christmas tree ornaments each year. Volunteers come from all over the country for the opportunity to help, while also forgoing their Thanksgiving dinners with their families back home. These folks are selected in a very competitive and tough process that involves persistently sending passionate and heartfelt letters to White House officials. Here are a few creative ways you can volunteer and really make a difference.