Barbara Bush worked on many projects, but her most precious were needlepoint stockings for her great-grandchildren.
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Jenna Bush Hager and Granny Barbara Bush
Credit: Courtesy of Jenna Bush Hager

Jenna Bush Hager has many fond memories of Barbara Bush, and her recall of what made Christmas so special in her family rises to the top. Some may not know that the former First Lady was a whiz at handcraft, and that her needlepoint stockings were deeply cherished by her family. Jenna's beautiful story surrounding these holiday relics has us thinking about what makes Christmas special and which handmade items we look forward to celebrating each holiday season.

Jenna's Memories of Needlepoint Stockings

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 needlepoint 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.

needlepoint
George and Barbara Bush campaign for Senate (note the needlepoint bag made by Mrs. Bush) | Credit: WikiCommons

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.)

Handmade Christmas Inspiration

When your holiday celebrations commence, what are your favorite items to unpack? Christmas is so tied to cherished memories, that our sentimentality can rest in special ornaments, stockings, a kooky star tree-topper made in kindergarten class, or even a tree skirt. Check out these other Southern Living stories for more inspiration surrounding that very special time of year:

Needlepoint Never Goes Out of Style in the South

The craft of needlepoint has seen a resurgence in recent years, but it's safe to say that this handcraft has never--and will never--go out of style in the South. Take a look at our article on the ubiquitous needlepoint pillow. Do any of these designs have your conjuring visions of needlepoint stockings?

Knit Christmas Stockings That Bring the Love

If you crave the warmth of handmade but aren't apt to jump in with your own set of knitting needles, these items will hit the sweet spot! Enjoy a knitted Christmas with these selections.

Amy Grant Shares Her Christmas Stories

Amy Grant's return every year to the Ryman Theater for Christmas reminds her of the best parts of the season, "It's like going into storage and pulling out the oldest cardboard box of ornaments I've duct-taped over and over." You will find creative inspiration in Grant's yuletide story.

Make Your Own Needlepoint Stockings

Order your own cross-stitch kit to make your Christmas special. These items are easy to find with a quick Amazon search and will satisfy your crafty Christmas itch. Order multiple items and create a Christmas craft day for your family.

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