Christmas at the Governor’s Mansion :: First Lady Edwards Tells All

Walking through the sturdy, gleaming white front doors adorned with larger-than-life Christmas wreaths, I was greeted by a warm smile and a “Hey, how are ya? Thank you for coming!” from Louisiana’s First Lady Donna Edwards.

I wanted to reach out to Mrs. Edwards, who is a former music teacher and mom of three-Samantha (24), Sarah Ellen (21), John Miller (14)- to find out more about her first year and first Christmas in the Louisiana Governor’s Mansion. And also, her first year in being a mom in the Red Stick! 

Mrs. Edwards’ husband, Governor John Bel Edwards, was inaugurated on January 11, 2016. This year Louisiana experienced two major floods (one of which flooded the ground floor of the Governor’s mansion and displaced the family for a few months), a state legislature that held three sessions, multiple shootings occurring in Baton Rouge that received national attention — it has been quite a first year for this first family to say the least.  

Here’s what she had to say … 

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Q. The Christmas decorations are stunning! Tell us about your decorating style in the Governor’s Mansion.

I’ve always liked my Christmas decor to be traditional and elegant – never to be a distraction from the reason we celebrate Christmas. I wanted pieces that were true to Christmas such as the Nativity scene and the Three Wise Men to be displayed along with beautifully decorated Christmas trees and fresh cedar garland. I also wanted to include a French theme this year so we hung a Joyeux Noel banner over our front door, and we even have a few pairs of shoes on one of our Christmas trees. I can’t take all the credit for the decor as I had a few personal friends from back home and many volunteers help make my vision a reality! My favorite decorations are these ornaments adorning two of our Christmas trees. Inmates in Louisiana hand-carve these wooden ornaments, and then we send them out to school districts all over the state and the students decorate them. The students do a fantastic job painting or coloring them; they are so beautiful! 

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Q.  Does your family have any Christmas traditions and do you plan on continuing them here in the Mansion?

Absolutely! Every Christmas Eve before we go to mass the kids and I make wassail. Then we attend mass with our family and have the Edwards family Christmas that night. Afterwards, the kids and I gather around in our pajamas and John Bel reads the Cajun Night Before Christmas, just as he’s done since the kids were little. We definitely plan to continue our traditions no matter where we are!

Q. Our readers want to know … does the Mansion have an Elf on the Shelf?

{Laughing} No, the Mansion does not have an Elf on the Shelf. My kids are older and wouldn’t appreciate it as much, but I will say that had that idea been around when they were younger I would have definitely utilized it!

Q. What is your signature holiday dish to bring to parties?

I, like many people back in Amite, love making crawfish soup! Although it may not seem like a traditional holiday dish, it is so easy to make and is delicious. I actually won many 4-H awards for this dish growing up so of course it is my go- to recipe!

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Mrs. Edwards telling us about the handmade ornaments decorated by students all over Louisiana.

Q. What is your favorite holiday dessert to indulge in? 

Oh I have many, but I have to say my favorite is peppermint bark. It is so good and I can never stop with just one piece. And I have to admit I always want to grab a little piece before I head up to bed every night!

Q. White lights or colored on your Christmas tree?

Well, when my kids were little I always decorated with the large bulbed colored lights because they loved them. Then as they got older and weren’t as interested in our Christmas decor I started using white lights because that is what I prefer. I won’t say they weren’t a little disappointed that first year of white lights! 

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Q. I understand the bottom floor of the Governor’s Mansion is considered public space, so do you have your personal space upstairs decorated for Christmas?

Yes, we do! We just got our Christmas tree up in our living area upstairs and should be hanging our stockings over the fireplace soon. It definitely makes our space feel more homey and gives us some sense of normalcy.

Q. How do you feel about the statement, “The gift is in the giving” and how do you find ways to give back during the holidays?

Oh, absolutely. In the past, we’ve always given to Heifer International and adopted local families that we knew were in need. I also really enjoyed participating in the Angel Wish tree at church and helping out with the Catholic Daughters chapter in Amite. This year is a little different, but my passion for giving is still there so I have been helping out at the St. Agnes Missionaries of Charity soup kitchen and homeless shelter for women and children. I’ve always tried to instill the importance of giving to my children and most importantly to give with love.

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Q. Tell us about your first year in the Governor’s Mansion – being a mom but also First Lady.

It has been an eventful year to say the least! Being the First Lady has the potential to be a full time job and for me I really want to make a big difference while here, but I am a mom first. John Miller is in ninth grade and although he doesn’t require much from me at this age I still want to be involved in his schooling, extra curricular activities, and be here to support him and his sisters as much as I can. It’s no different than anyone else with full-time jobs and raising kids; you juggle and you deal with the obstacles as they come. We moms learn as we go and somehow we always find a way to make it work!

Q. Do you have a New Year’s Resolution? If so, can you tell us about it?

 I don’t know if I would call these resolutions, but I would like to try and get back to some things that I used to really enjoy doing. This past year has been a time of getting acclimated to our new life here in Baton Rouge, and I’d really like to spend more time in the adoration chapel as it was always such a treasured time for me. I haven’t been able to go near as much as I would have liked. I’d also really like to get out and visit the schools in Louisiana and check out the music programs they have in place. Music is dear to my heart. My former students really loved music class, and it gave them a positive outlet to express their feelings. Another thing I think most of your mom readers will resonate with is that I want to spend more quality time with my girlfriends! We moms need that friendship and time together to stay connected. I think perhaps most of all I’m hoping for a calmer year for all Louisianians!

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From left to right: First Lady Donna Edwards, RSMB writer Katie Corkern and RSMB Market Manager Ericka Poole

My interview with Mrs. Edwards ended with a tour around the Mansion and a little indulgence in the First Lady’s favorite holiday treat–peppermint bark made in house! It was clear to me that Mrs. Edwards is just another Red Stick mom trying to find balance in both work and home life. She is eager to learn more about our Baton Rouge community of moms and ways to stay connected. Just as all of us moms need some reassurance every now and then, Louisiana’s First Lady seems to be doing a great job and we can’t wait to learn more about her!

Thank you Mrs. Edwards for allowing me into your home and giving our readers a glimpse into Louisiana’s beautiful Governor’s Mansion.  

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