Tradition, timing guide inauguration day

Protocol is a tough taskmaster. Thus, almost every Presidential Inauguration proceeds according to tradition and the clock.

Early on the morning of Jan. 20, a butler will climb the stairs to the main guest suite at Blair House, across the street from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and tap gently on the door of the blue, white and raspberry-chintz-covered bedroom. President-Elect Barack Obama undoubtedly will already have risen from the king-sized, canopied four-poster bed he slept in for five nights.

Presidents later have described the feeling the morning of taking the oath of office as a cross between the excitement of a child on Christmas morning and the nervousness of taking a final exam for which you are not fully prepared. (Reportedly, the only president-in-waiting still asleep when the butler tapped was Ronald Reagan.)

As Obama goes over his speech one last time, Michelle Obama and her mother will be making sure their daughters, Malia Anne, born in 1998, and Natasha or "Sasha," born in 2001, are breakfasted and warmly dressed. The last child younger than 12 (Chelsea Clinton) who went to the White House on a January 20 was Amy Carter, who was nine.

The Obama children will be in the same clothes from the outdoor swearing-in at noon through the parade that ends late afternoon, although the bullet-proof-glass box of comfortable chairs and bleachers in front of the White House where they will watch the parade is heated. The Clinton family reportedly had a brief squabble about what 12-year-old Chelsea was to wear.

At 10:30 a.m., after a prayer service, the Obamas will travel by car the half-block from the church to the White House, where the Bushes will welcome them inside for coffee.

After 11 a.m. the Bushes and the Obamas will get into the presidential limousine for the 1.2-mile trip to the Capitol, where Obama will take the oath of office at noon on the Bible used by Abraham Lincoln, who also was from Illinois.

The Secret Service, which famously dubs the first family with coded nicknames for security purposes, has chosen its names for the Obamas: Barack is Renegade, Michelle is Renaissance, Malia is Radiance and Sasha is Rosebud.

Obama will be sworn in by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. There will be prayers and music performed by the President’s Own Marine Corps Band. The weather is expected to be sunny and cold. Obama probably will wear a top coat. (William Henry Harrison died one month after catching cold on inaugural day on March 4, 1841 after delivering an inaugural address that lasted 100 minutes.) Michelle Obama will not wear a fur coat.

The highlight after the oath of office is the inaugural address. Obama is likely to speak for about 15 to 20 minutes. Everyone will be searching for a phrase to remember. (Lincoln talked of "the better angels of our nature." Franklin Delano Roosevelt told Americans "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." John F. Kennedy told Americans to "ask what you can do for your country.")

While the new president is being sworn in as the previous president watches, a miracle of efficiency and change of power takes place. One moving truck drives up to the South Entrance and picks up the Bush family’s possessions and furniture. And another truck unloads the Obama family’s furniture and personal goods. While the public rooms are furnished with priceless antiques, the private rooms upstairs at the White House, including the famous Solarium, which is the "family room," are furnished by each president.

After the swearing-in, the Obamas will be honored at a luncheon sponsored by a bi-partisan committee in the National Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol which has been a tradition for the new president for more than a century. The theme is "A New Birth of Freedom," and celebrates the 200th birthday of Lincoln. The guests, mostly members of Congress, will eat seafood stew, pheasant and duck with sour cherry chutney, molasses sweet potatoes, and apple cinnamon sponge cake and sweet cream — a menu crafted to include dishes of Lincoln’s day. They will drink Duckhorn Vineyards 2007 sauvignon blanc, Goldeneye 2005 pinot noir and Korbel California "champagne," made specially for the inauguration.

As the Bushes fly off to Texas, the parade will begin. After the Obamas arrive at the head of the parade at the White House, they will watch it from the elaborate, heated box it took two months to build in front of their new home. The Obamas may invite celebrities in town for the festivities, including a free concert on the National Mall on Sunday, to sit with them to watch the inaugural parade.

The parade usually takes at least two hours and is sometimes three. After it is over, the Obamas will walk up the curved driveway to the front door of the White House to find all their things neatly laid out for them. (Each family has to be told to put their inaugural ball clothing (gowns and tuxedos) in a special place at Blair House so they can be pressed and hung to be worn that night.)

Traditionally the new president and his wife make the rounds of each of 10 inaugural balls. The Obamas like to dance and probably will take a few steps at each. They will probably return to their new home, the White House, shortly after midnight begins.