Hand­made stock­ings, a fes­tive fruit­cake, Christ­mas lasagna— be­hind ev­ery hol­i­day tra­di­tion is a fam­ily mem­ber de­voted to keep­ing those ri­tu­als and recipes alive

Southern Living (USA) - - Contents - BY JENNA BUSH HAGER

Be­hind ev­ery hol­i­day tra­di­tion is a fam­ily mem­ber de­voted to keep­ing the ri­tu­als and recipes alive.

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.

This Christ­mas, our first with­out Ganny, 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.

A fa­vorite photo of Hager and her Ganny

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