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Jenna Bush Hager, Michelle Obama talk 'magical' White House holidays

Jenna Bush Hager pays a visit to the first lady, who says the holidays are the "most special time to be in the White House" and reveals a few of the first family's favorite yuletide traditions.

Every family has holiday traditions, but it’s a whole different story when you celebrate in the White House.

TODAY’s Jenna Bush Hager knows first-hand what it’s like to spend the holidays at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Last month she sat down with Michelle Obama to get a glimpse into how the current White House occupants celebrate this season. 

“This is the most special time to be in the White House, and one of the things I really love is that it’s the one time of the year when we really open the White House,’’ Obama said. “We have thousands and thousands of visitors just streaming through every day. Everything looks great. The smells are magnificent. I feel very blessed to be able to be here during these times.’’

On Thursday at 8 p.m., NBC will air "A White House Christmas: First Families Remember,'' as former presidential families look back at their experiences. "During the holidays, it really is magical,'' Hager told TODAY's Savannah Guthrie. 


TODAY's Jenna Bush Hager can remember her grandfather, George H.W. Bush, reading 'Night Before Christmas' to her and her siblings and cousins every year at the White House.

The first lady said her role during the holidays is to be “hostess-in-chief,’’ which includes welcoming some important guests.

“One of the things that’s really special for us is really being able to turn a spotlight onto our military families, which is something that we try to do every year through the holidays,’’ she said. “I just try to remember that this is the time when the White House is truly the people’s house.’’

The president also takes a backseat to the true star of the family during the holidays Bo, the family’s Portuguese water dog. Bo is featured on this year’s official White House holiday card.


The Obamas always try to work their beloved Portuguese water dog Bo into their holiday themes, including the cover of the White House holiday card this year.

“We always find a way to incorporate Bo into our Christmas themes,’’ Obama said. “Bo is the most popular member of our family. The president is clear on it. There are times when people recognize Bo, and they don’t even see him.’’

Read: Bo-Ho-Ho! First dog inspects White House holiday decorations

The Obamas will actually spend Christmas some 5,000 miles away from the White House in Hawaii, where the president grew up and attended high school.

“We go out there, and we spend time with friends and family,’’ she said. “That tends to be our gift to each other, the president and I. We don’t exchange gifts. We say, ‘We’re in Hawaii. Merry Christmas.’’’


TODAY's Jenna Bush Hager also was able to experience putting the star on top of the National Christmas Tree with her grandmother, Barbara Bush.

One of the family traditions is a Christmas talent show involving the children — and the adults.

“Everyone has to participate, whether it’s singing or reading a poem,’’ Obama said. “The kids will construct a play of some sort, or we’ll sing Christmas carols.’’

The first lady declined to reveal the nature of her performance in this year's show.

“I wouldn’t disclose it to the public,’’ she joked. “It would give me a great disadvantage.’’

She did reveal the contents of the holiday meal: “There's turkey, there’s string beans and stuffing, a little mac and cheese,’’ she said. “This is a time when I throw ‘Let's Move’ out the window for a moment, and get that mac and cheese. Everybody deserves their mac and cheese.”

After the frenetic pace of the election, the family is looking forward to spending some time together with the understanding that the president’s job could take him away at any time.


Just like the Obamas, it was all about family for Jenna Bush Hager (at right) during holiday time at the White House during the two presidential terms of her father, George W. Bush.

“This job never stops,’’ Obama said. “It's a wonderful privilege. It's a blessing. We're so glad to be here for four more years. There's so much work to do, but you don't have control over where the winds blow.’’

While the White House holiday experience differs from that of the average household, the core values are still the same, the first lady said.

“That’s what you realize living here is that in the end, it’s about family,’’ she said. “It’s about friendship. No matter what we’re dealing with around the world, the holidays are a time for us to all just be together and be thankful.’’


Read more: 

The 2012 White House holiday card stars Bo!

A 90-year tradition: Obama lights National Christmas Tree

When Christmas comes a day early or a day late

Wow! See the world records that fell in 2012

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