December 29, 2003 12:00 PM

The holiday season is marked by tradition, and one that we most value is our annual visit with the President and First Lady. George W. Bush is the sixth President to sit down with PEOPLE editors for our year-end interview. When Washington bureau chief Sandra Sobieraj Westfall and I met with the President and Laura Bush in the Yellow Oval Room of the White House residence, they were at ease and welcoming—both to us and to their cat Kitty and dog Spotty, who wandered into the room during our talk. Pointing out their Christmas stockings and their daughters’ childhood construction-paper ornaments, they moved easily from personal reminiscence to policy issues.

Although it was decked out in grand fashion—660 ft. of garland, 245 pine-bough wreaths, 70,000 twinkle lights—the White House was clearly different on this visit than on my first, some years ago. Then, Pennsylvania Avenue was open to traffic, and a cab drove me right up to the guardhouse, where an officer checked my name on a list and sent me through. Today the ID tags, X-ray scanners and other heightened security measures underscore the new pressures the White House residents face—and remind us all that we are living in a very changed world.

Here at the magazine we’re heartened by the way Americans are responding to that world. After our story on Jessica Porter, the 19-year-old Hudson, Fla., girl who has dedicated herself to making a quilt for the family of every soldier killed in Iraq (PEOPLE, Sept. 22), quilters from Alaska to West Virginia volunteered their services. Wendy Hushak of Cincinnati, who founded Impact 100, a philanthropic group whose members donate $1,000 each to aid local charities (PEOPLE, Jan. 27), saw its numbers grow to 184 after our article ran. And Alice Coles, who almost single-handedly built homes for the neediest residents of her hometown, Bayview, Va. (PEOPLE, Oct. 6), says the response to her story was “like they opened the windows of heaven.”

Here’s to a New Year filled with more good works and good news.

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