Jenna Bush Hager is no stranger to inaugurations. She first attended the ceremony when she was 7 years old for her paternal grandfather, George H.W. Bush, and later went to the two inaugurations of her own father, George W. Bush, when she was 19 and 23.
Ahead of the inauguration of Joe Biden and amid law enforcement warnings of possible violence leading up to Jan. 20, the TODAY co-host is sharing her thoughts on the importance of Inauguration Day to her family — and to democracy — in Maria Shriver's newsletter, The Sunday Paper.
Reflecting on the first inauguration she attended, Jenna recalled: "My sister and I were little — we were in first grade — and we didn’t quite understand the significance of it. We just saw somebody that we loved being sworn into office. We loved balloons and the parade. And we’re from Texas so even just to be in Washington when it was cold and beautiful and wintery — it was almost like living a dream.”
Jenna went on to tell a touching story about the parade, focusing on the familial bond the first family shares with the White House staff. She explained that the parade is usually the time the former president moves out of the White House and the new president moves in, but she and her twin sister, Barbara, were cold, so they went early.
“We met an incredible woman named Nancy Clarke, who was a florist, and she took us down to the floral shop and we made bouquets for our grandparents’ bedside,” she said. “Years later she did the flowers for my wedding when I married my husband, Henry. Everyone asks what makes the White House feel like home and it’s the people — many of whom are lifetime employees — who fill it with this beautiful spirit of family.”
Jenna admitted that since she was young during that time, she didn’t fully understand the significance of the moment. She even joked that when she got back to Texas after the day, her sister thought that all grandfathers had inaugurations.
Jenna also reflected on the period after her grandfather lost his second term to former President Bill Clinton when she was asked how the “peaceful transfer of power” was explained to her as a kid.
"It was never explained to us. We just witnessed it, and then we knew that our grandfather had left a note for President Clinton when he lost — and it was my grandfather that actually started that tradition," she said. "He felt a huge responsibility, and he was such a gracious man that he created this tradition that continued up until point where the outgoing president leaves a note for the incoming president. We watched our father do that, as well."
In 2013, Jenna thought back on her experiences going to the past three inaugurations, two for her father and the third for former President Barack Obama’s first term.
"It's pretty amazing to be there with all the politicians ... and to look out to this huge crowd,” she said. “It's living history, and it's not something that many people get to do."
On TODAY in 2017, Barbara described the “unbelievable” feeling of walking into the White House for the first time.
“Just because you can't imagine being in such a huge, magical place,” Barbara said. “When we were older and we got to go back, there was, of course, a familiarity with it, which was very comforting.”