Clinton Gets Late Start on Festive Day at White House

From Associated Press

Schoolchildren waiting for President Clinton to read them a holiday story were starting to fidget. They watched a reindeer with a blinking red nose prance around with Frosty the Snowman. Still no Clinton.

The children, mostly from schools in Washington, listened to a concert of carols. Santa Claus conducted a weak rendition of “Jingle Bells.” The Army Chorale serenaded with “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”

“Come on, Bill,” said Helen Williams, a chaperon from Brightwood Elementary School. “We left the school at 10 a.m. We already sang downstairs here for an hour.”


Clinton was half an hour late. Children were yawning, holding their heads in their hands.

The president squeezed the read-aloud session around his meeting with Northern Ireland Protestant leader David Trimble and staff meetings about his State of the Union address next month.

Shortly after 2 p.m., the president and first lady joined the children in the East Room of the White House, which was aglow with Christmas trees decorated with gold pine cone ornaments, gold tinsel and strands of gold beads.

Seated on a red bench with children at his feet, Clinton cracked open a storybook of Clement C. Moore’s 1822 poem about a father’s Christmas Eve encounter with St. Nicholas.

“If I slow down and you know the words, you can fill in the words, OK?” Clinton told the children as he began to read aloud: “‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even . . . .”

“A mouse,” exclaimed the children, who began to perk up.

And so it went. Clinton read the story, stopping at familiar words to let the children chime in. Hillary Rodham Clinton sat next to the president and helped hold up a corner of the book.

Five minutes later, story time was over.

“It was fast, wasn’t it?” Clinton asked.

Although subdued by the story and carols, the children, mostly ages 5 to 9, clapped and rocked when the SMASH Singers from Santa Monica Alternative School House in California sang their version of “The 12 Days of Christmas.”


The 20-member choir of first- through sixth-grade pupils sang how their true love gave them “food for the hungry,” “no rush hour,” “homes for the homeless” and a “world where all people are free.”

Later in the day, the president made his debut as a holiday shopper on the Internet.

Nanda Chitre, a White House spokeswoman, said Clinton used his American Express card to buy braided horsehair bracelets at, a nonprofit community development financial institution for the Lakota people of the Oglala Lakota Nation in South Dakota; and children’s books at, a site for poor artisans around the world.