Gov. Jay Nixon and First Lady Georganne Nixon’s holiday memories are similar, even though they grew up in De Soto and Jefferson City, respectively.
“It was a time when my family was always together,” Governor Nixon says. A fire was going in the fireplace, and “my mother, much like Georganne, always appreciated sitting around a fire.”
“We had a small family, but it was always a very cozy time,” Mrs. Nixon says. The smell of the outdoors brought in with the tree has always been a part of the holiday for her, and the Nixons have always had a real tree. They usually buy their tree from a lot selling trees to benefit a local group. The Nixons bring even more greenery and aroma into the Governor’s Mansion through the holiday décor they select, including simple accents such as pomegranates and oranges. Mrs. Nixon says the mansion represents a Missouri Christmas because she and the staff decorate using items they believe would have been common at the time the home was built.
“Oranges were always a part of our family’s Christmas tradition,” says the First Lady. "My parents grew up in the Depression down in southwest Missouri, and Mother always talked about the joy of finding an orange in her stocking at the time when oranges were so rare and were not shipped like they are now. So, that made a big impression on me as a child, even though by then oranges were plentiful. Now, I think we’ve continued that tradition with our two sons to try to underscore all there is to be grateful for.”
Oranges are always in the stockings on Christmas morning.
“In difficult times, a piece of fruit, a special meal, a chance for folks to get together— we’ve really focused, and we’ve tried not to value Christmas or any other holiday by the gifts, but by the presence—not with a ‘ts’ but with ‘ce’—of our family and friends,” she says. “We really have focused on that, and I think it’s brought a deeper sense of what the holidays are really about.”
Mrs. Nixon does remember one book she treasured. “I still can see the cover of it: it was a joke book. You might not realize that a child might love a book more than anything, and that really is something that is very dear to my heart.
“I still can see that book, and I’m not really the type of person that can remember a joke. So, I’m not sure why that meant so much to me, but I loved it.”
Gifts of song are another tradition for the Nixons, whether it’s caroling or a spontaneous tickling of the ivories. Last year, Mrs. Nixon caroled in the Nixons’ old Jefferson City neighborhood, a tradition they started when Mr. Nixon was based in the city as Missouri’s attorney general. And while most of the residents on the street were not home—most of them had joined the carolers— they did find a few folks at home. Governor Nixon confesses he does have one favorite carol.
“ ‘Joy to the World’ is always really, really easy because you go straight down the scale,” he says. “Anybody can play it on the piano. It’s kind of running sometimes in the back of my head, plus if I ever come to a piano, it’s the one thing that I know I can play.”
New traditions have come with their time in the Governor’s Mansion, such as the annual candlelight tours during the holidays. Those tours have found their way into the hearts of the Governor and First Lady. Mrs. Nixon was once one of the high school students standing on the steps in the Jefferson City Chorale, and she still enjoys seeing the school groups making the mansion a part of their holiday traditions.
Mrs. Nixon finds that the candlelight tours make the big mansion “homey.” “It’s a museum and a state building, but it was designed as a home,” she says. “We were honored to welcome so many families whose traditions include visiting the mansion.”
The mansion has hosted more than 60,000 total guests in a single year, many of whom enjoyed the candlelight tours of the people’s house during the holidays. That’s a few more people than the Nixons entertained before they arrived at the mansion, the Governor says. “But, like I said, it’s a part of the tradition, and we look forward to welcoming families from across Missouri to the mansion this year.”
2012 Candlelight Tours will be 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 30 and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 1. No reservations are required.