ILLUSTRATION BY JOE CIARDIELLO FOR USN&WRIt would be understandable if, after planning six extravagant Christmases at the White House, during which she's posed for some 120,000 pictures with her hubby, first lady Laura Bush were a little tired of the whole affair. But in her seventh year of playing Mrs. Santa Claus, she's still into her role, right down to making a last-minute change to the White House Christmas card and luring guests with refreshments to the oft-ignored Palm Room to see her favorite decoration: trees made out of national seashore shells.
"She said just the other day that she can't believe this is her second-to-last Christmas at the White House," says a friend. Among her personal touches: Back in March Mrs. B picked the theme, holiday in the national parks, and wrote all 391 parks seeking uniquely painted ornaments—347 delivered. Then, when the Christmas card displaying the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden was done, she added a mention on the back crediting her predecessor Lady Bird Johnson for designing the little park. Mrs. B also added 3,000 guests to the list of 20,000 and two more parties, one for friends and families, the other for park officials. Most fun: After daughter Barbara raved about a wedding band she saw last summer, Laura booked Philly's popular Jellyroll for the annual congressional ball. "She's been more engaged than ever," says a friend.