Keeping her grandmother's spirit alive.
Jenna Bush Hager and Granny Barbara Bush
Credit: Courtesy of Jenna Bush Hager

When I imagine my Ganny, I think of her hands busy (usually her mouth too) as she meticulously needlepointed. She worked on many projects, but her most precious were stockings for her great-grandchildren. My daughters, Mila and Poppy, hang their own each year with care. Mila's is traditional, with her name stitched in cursive next to poinsettias; Poppy's has a Christmas cat watching Santa suspiciously, as only cats do.

Growing up, Christmas was about tamales, guacamole, caroling, and cousin skits. But mostly, it was all about family, and it centered around our grandparents, our North Stars.

When they were President and First Lady, our huge, rambunctious crew of uncles, aunts, and cousins traveled from all over— Texas, Florida, Virginia, and Maryland—descending upon the White House for the holiday. On Christmas Eve, we drove to Camp David, the Presidential retreat in Maryland. The cabins, named after the trees in the area (Aspen, Red Oak, Maple, Elm), were just the right size for each of our families. We gathered in the main cabin, Laurel Lodge, for good food and plenty of laughter.

At Christmastime I'm nostalgic for the days when we were together. This time of year is full of love, but for those who have recently lost someone, that loss is illuminated. My grandfather wrote this letter to his mom after their 3-year-old daughter, Robin, passed away.

"Dear Mum,

There is about our house a need. There is a running, pulsating restlessness of the four boys as they struggle to learn and grow; the world embraces them…all this wonder needs a counterpart. We need some starched crisp frocks to go with all our torn-kneed blue jeans and helmets. We need some soft blond hair to offset those crew cuts. We need a legitimate Christmas angel…."

Ask any member of our family, and we know who greeted Ganny in heaven: that "Christmas angel," her daughter Robin.

The void Ganny left is enormous; her place at the table will never be filled. I miss her jokes and laughter. I even miss her arguing with me about my love of cats.

Ganny left so much of herself here. And up until the last year of her life, she needlepointed feverishly. She wanted to make sure there were stockings on reserve for great-grandchildren who would come after she was gone. That was our Ganny: She wanted to leave the world a little more beautiful through her work, her words, and even her needlepoint stockings.

(Editor's note: In a recent article reported by People, Jenna shares that former First Lady Barbara Bush had an embroidered  stocking "reserved" for her great-grandson Hal.)