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President-elect Barack Obama made clear to his aides that he wanted to spend the Christmas holiday in Hawaii, as he had done in years past: There is no more campaign, this will be a true family vacation.

So it is to them no surprise that Obama, with less than a month before he takes office, has largely kept away from public view while here at his rented vacation home near Honolulu. No speeches, no fundraisers, no forced political meetings. Just family and close friends, holed up behind stone and lava walls at the $9 million beachfront home for his last trip before he takes office on Jan. 20.

So far, it has worked.

Obama has ventured into public only a few times since arriving here from his home in Chicago last Saturday. He brought with him only four aides and his Secret Service detail. His comments to the journalists have included little more than jokes about bar tabs or questions if they had enough photographs yet — nothing that he sought to make headlines for saying.

“OK, guys,” Obama bemoaned while walking to a driving range last Sunday. “Come on. … How many shots do you need?”

Obama ventured from his home on Christmas Day to thank Marines and sailors at the nearby military base for their service. He spent more than an hour at the dining hall, posing for pictures between the ham, roast beef and turkey on the buffet. The trip came well after the evening network news programs had aired, a move that allowed him to visit without the suggestion of exploiting the military to get on TV.

“Hey,” Obama said as he walked into the mess hall wearing a short-sleeved shirt and slacks, passing by a life-sized Santa Claus. “Just wanted to say ‘hi.'”

Obama lingered a few minutes at each table as the Marines and sailors and their families stood to greet their next commander in chief. At other tables, the visitors ate candied sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping, mashed potatoes and simmered corn and broccoli.

It was one of only a handful of trips Obama and his motorcade have taken. He and his wife Michelle have visited Marine Corps Base Hawaii for daily morning workouts. Twice, he and friends have played a round of golf. He attended a private memorial service for his grandmother on Tuesday and scattered her ashes into the Pacific Ocean.

And that’s been it — something his aides say will keep pace until he returns to Chicago in the New Year.

Obama, wife Michelle and their two young daughters opened presents earlier Thursday and planned their own dinner of turkey and ham, according to aides. They did not release any other details or a full menu — a stark contrast to the detailed plan the White House released for President George W. Bush’s menu at Camp David of roast turkey with cornbread dressing, green beans, sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes with giblet gravy, spinach salad, cranberry sauce, rolls, and pumpkin pie and pecan pie for dessert.

Obama’s not president yet, aides say. Next year, full menu; this year, just the highlights.

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