By Peter Nicholas, Tribune Washington Bureau
HONOLULU — The Obama family celebrated a low-key Christmas on Sunday, trading presents, attending church and singing Christmas carols before the first couple left their rented vacation home to meet soldiers and their families at a nearby Marine Corps base.
The visit tested the president’s dignity in unexpected ways when he picked up 8-month-old Cooper Wall Wagner and held him against his chest. While the president chatted with Cooper’s parents in the mess hall, the baby’s fingers found their way into Obama’s unguarded mouth.
Obama smiled and said the baby was curious about his “big nose,” getting a laugh from the Marines.
With babies in abundance, Obama also cradled a sleeping 1-month-old girl, Adeline Valentina Hernandez Whitney, as the first lady peered over his shoulder for an appreciative look.
“She’s very excited to meet the president,” Obama joked.
The Obamas went from table to table at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, signing autographs and posing for pictures.
The president was dressed casually in khakis and a checked dress shirt with sleeves rolled up his forearm; the first lady wore a yellow-green cardigan, teal camisole and a green patterned skirt.
Obama asked a boy and a girl what they had gotten for Christmas (Legos and dolls, respectively). He wished a Latino family “Feliz Navidad.”
The president arrived in Hawaii on Friday, his vacation delayed six days to settle the dispute with House Republicans over renewal of the payroll tax cut. The family is staying near Kailua Bay on the east side of Oahu.
Daughters Malia and Sasha got their presents about 8 a.m., the White House said. After that, the family attended church services at the same Marine Corps base.
The vacation is shaping up to be a relaxing one for the president.
On Saturday, he played golf with old friends from Hawaii, where he was born and raised, while his wife fielded questions from children who called in to NORAD’s special “Santa-tracking” unit.
“Can you tell me where Santa is?” one girl named Summer asked Mrs. Obama.
The first lady replied that Santa at that very moment was “over Finland.”
“I can see a glowing light,” she said, “and it looks like, from the satellite, that he’s got all nine reindeer with him and it looks like his sleigh is pretty full. It looks like a full sleigh of toys. So I hope you’ve been good this year.”
The Obamas are due to return to Washington on Jan. 2.