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A White House Farewell

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There are things I’ve learned to count on in the half-dozen times we’ve had the honor of visiting with George and Laura Bush at the holidays: decorative bowls of pomegranates, the President’s jokes about going gray. Inside the White House this year, much was familiar. The State Floor was a mess of drop cloths, bare trees and red, white and blue ribbon spools in preparation for this year’s Red, White and Blue Christmas theme. President Bush, relaxed in the company of his family, did make a crack about his hair. Outside the sunlit windows, however, signs of change: A parade reviewing stand waited on Pennsylvania Avenue for Barack Obama to take his first walk as President, with his family in tow. Earlier Michelle Obama told PEOPLE that she and the President-elect “look forward to making new memories” in the White House.

But before we let go of memories, PEOPLE’s annual year-end double issue takes a look at 2008’s many highs and lows. In these pages we celebrate new romances (Jennifer Aniston answers your questions about hers) and new lives (congratulations to moms Nicole Richie, Jennifer Lopez, Halle Berry, Jessica Alba and Nicole Kidman). We also share the ache of loss for Jennifer Hudson and for families of servicemen and -women slain in Iraq and Afghanistan, in our sixth gathering of their more than 4,800 names.

As we said goodbye to the President, I asked if he had a message for PEOPLE readers. He answered, “I would like to thank them for their prayers, for their support, for their generosity of spirit.” We add our thanks and best wishes for the holidays and coming year.