With them was the family's Portuguese water dog, who, in this rarest of public outings, had no formal remarks — just barks and rebarks disrupting Obama's reading of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."

What's Dad getting for Christmas?

"Sports stuff," Obama said. "It's something he likes," Sasha, 8, said cryptically.

How will Christmas be different this year?

"Well, it will be easier to get on the plane than last year," said Sasha, to laughter.

"Unfortunately, you don't get presents under all of them," noted Malia, 11.

Favorite songs?

For Malia, it's the ethereal "Carol of the Bells," and for Sasha, it's that sprightly old standard, "Jingle Bells."

Malia, leading Bo, worked a rope line like an old pro, politely saying, "Hi. It's nice to meet you," or asking, "Are you having fun? Are you excited for Christmas?"