Obama and his family were vacationing at a beachfront rental home in Kailua in his native Hawaii. Aides said the Obamas were to enjoy a traditional holiday meal at their home Thursday and would have close family friends from Chicago visit throughout the day.
The Obamas have kept a low profile while vacationing in a quiet neighborhood on Oahu. The family spent Christmas Eve offering an appreciation to the U.S. military in a recorded message.
"This holiday season, their families celebrate with a joy that is muted knowing that a loved one is absent, and sometimes in danger," Obama said in the message, set to air Saturday morning. "In towns and cities across America, there is an empty seat at the dinner table; in distant bases and on ships at sea, our servicemen and women can only wonder at the look on their child's face as they open a gift back home."
Obama asked the country to look to George Washington's improbable crossing of the Delaware River on Dec. 25, 1776, as inspiration to get through current tough times. The president-elect said in a holiday message that Washington and his army "faced impossible odds" as they fought against the British on that Christmas, the day they surprised Hessian forces at Trenton, N.J., and won victories that gave new momentum and hope to American independence. In his own radio address set to air Saturday but released Tuesday, President George W. Bush also highlighted Washington's crossing of the Delaware.
Obama used that story to say that "hope endures and that a new birth of peace is always possible"—even as many Americans are serving overseas and others have lost their jobs while the economy sinks deeper into the doldrums.
In person, he also asked a crowd outside a gym at Marine Corps Base Hawaii whether they had their wish lists ready.
"You guys got your Christmas list?" Obama asked people standing in the makeshift rope line where military members and their families gathered to greet Obama, who takes office Jan. 20.
Obama, his family and his close friends are spending 12 days on the island of Oahu at a rented $9 million beachfront estate. Aides say the Obamas would have no public events during the trip, although he has received intelligence briefings and met with aides.
In past years the Obamas have spent the December holidays visiting Obama's maternal grandmother, who died Nov. 2, before Obama's historic Nov. 4 victory. The Obamas had a private memorial service Tuesday for Madelyn Payne Dunham, known to friends as "Toot," who helped raise him.