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Jennifer is Co-host of The Story of Liberty Radio Broadcast, video editor and creator, blogger & Web designer for the Story of Liberty. TheStoryofLiberty.net

Christmas-As Celebrated by the Presidents

The President. My fellow Americans, the Christmas and Hanukkah decorations are up around the country, and in a moment we’ll be lighting the National Christmas Tree here in the Nation’s Capital.

In this holiday season, we celebrate the birthday of one who, for almost 2,000 years, has been a greater influence on humankind than all the rulers, all the scholars, all the armies and all the navies that ever marched or sailed, all put together. He brought to the world the simple message of peace on Earth, good will to all mankind.

Some celebrate the day as marking the birth of a great and good man, a wise teacher and prophet, and they do so sincerely. But for many of us it’s also a holy day, the birthday of the Prince of Peace, a day when “God so loved the world” that He sent us His only begotten son to assure forgiveness of our sins.
The Yuletide season is characterized in our country by the giving of gifts, a spirit of charity, and, yes, good will, more so than at any other time of the year. Already traditional programs are underway, drives to collect food and clothing for those who are in need. The U.S. Marine Reserves have a toy collection drive to make sure that old St. Nicholas—Santa Clause—has enough to go around. And this is matched in countless American communities by firemen, policemen, churches, religious groups, and service clubs.

Let me give you one specially moving example of what the Christmas spirit can do. I told this the other night. In Bridgeport, Connecticut, the Police Athletic League for years has maintained a kind of Christmas Center. It consists of a ranch-type house, a manger, and all the other things associated with Christmas. And during the holiday season it’s manned by a Santa Claus, elves, and helpers. Thousands of children visit it every year, and thousands of toys are given out to them.

This year, on Tuesday, December 7th, it was destroyed by fire set by a suspected arsonist. The mayor of Bridgeport called an emergency meeting. He asked for constructionists, carpenters, electricians, all the skills that are needed to help rebuild such a place. The answer to his call was instantaneous. More than 250 volunteers worked in shifts around the clock.

On Sunday, December 12th, 5 days later, at about 1:30 p.m. I phoned the mayor. He was officiating at the reopening of that Christmas Center to the cheers of hundreds and hundreds of the citizens of Bridgeport. It had been rebuilt in only the 4 days between the fire and the opening ceremony.

A recent initiative of Postmaster General William Bolger’s will make it easier for all of us to do our part. He has instructed post offices across the country to display lists of the Christmas food, clothing, and toy drives in their local areas, a guide to holiday giving open to all Americans.

This holiday season, as we work our way out of a recession, too many still find themselves without jobs, forced to cut back on things that they once thought of as their normal pattern of living. They aren’t statistics; they’re people. They’re our neighbors, friends, and, yes, family, and they make up that group that right now we call the unemployed. Their number’s greater than it has been for some time past. Still, for every unemployed individual there are 9 of us who do have jobs, and with that ratio of 1 out of 10 in mind, I’d like to make a suggestion. How about those of us who are employed making sure that those who aren’t will nevertheless have a merry Christmas. This is something that needs doing at the community level—neighbor helping neighbor.

The people we’re talking about may be members of your church, brothers and sisters in your local union, or that family across the street or down the block in your neighborhood. Surely between the nine of us, we can find a way to make Christmas merry for that one who temporarily can use our help. But remember, time is growing short, and Christmas is almost here, which brings us back to lighting the National Christmas Tree.

This beloved tradition, which began nearly 50 years ago, has a special symbolism for our people. It’s as if when we light this tree, we light something within ourselves as well. And during the Christmas season I think most Americans do feel a greater sense of family, friendship, giving, and joy. And there’s a special joy in our children at this time of year. I’ve heard from many of them recently. I wish Nancy and I could personally thank all you children who’ve written in, but I want you to know how good your cards, letters, and artwork make us feel.

Now, while Christmas is a time for children, it’s also a time to think of those who are less fortunate than we are, and let us also remember the constant vigil of the families of our missing in action. As we light this Christmas tree, may it light hope in the hearts of those who are lonely and needy.

In Ephesians we read that “Each of us has been given his gift, his portion of Christ’s bounty.” Well, let us share our bounty this Christmas season. Let us offer not only our hearts and prayers but a generous hand to those who need our help. And as we light this tree, let us brighten the lives of those here at home and around the world whose Christmas may not be as glowing and as cheerful as ours.

So, to all of you, God bless you and keep you during this cherished holiday season. And now let’s turn on the National Christmas Tree.

[At this point, the President pressed the button which lighted the tree, located at the annual Christmas Pageant of Peace ceremonies site on the Ellipse, near the White House. ]

And there it is. It’s lighted.
Mrs. Reagan. Pretty.

The President. Yes. It’s surrounded by 57 trees for each State and Territory.
Well, thank you all, and Merry Christmas. Mrs. Reagan. Merry Christmas.

Read more at the American Presidency Project: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=42123#ixzz1hBOtGP4y

Remarks on Lighting the National Christmas Tree. Thank you all very much. Welcome to the Christmas Pageant of Peace. This evening we continue a tradition in Washington as we gather to light the National Christmas Tree. Tonight and throughout the Christmas season our thoughts turn to a star in the east, seen 20 centuries ago, and to a light that can guide us still. Laura and I are so pleased to join you in this ceremony, and we thank you all for being here.

It’s always good to see Santa. I know you’ve got a lot of commitments this time of year. [Laughter] We also know how Santa gets around: He travels in the dark of night; he arrives unannounced—[laughter]—and he’s gone before you know he was there. [Laughter] Santa, I can assure you, it’s a lot easier on a flying sled than it is on Air Force One. [Laughter]

I want to thank Peter Nostrand, the chairman of the Christmas Pageant of Peace, and John Betchkal, the president. I want to thank very much Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton and her staff for helping put this fine event on. I want to thank all the members of my Cabinet who are here. I appreciate Fran Mainella, who’s the Director of the National Park Service. I want to thank all the National Park Service employees who work so hard on behalf of the American people.

I want to thank Father Kleinweber for his gracious offering of prayer. I appreciate the musicians—fantastic job tonight. Thank you all for coming. I want to thank the members of the board of the Christmas Pageant of Peace. I want to welcome all the children from the Boys and Girls Clubs from this region for being here.

Also with us this evening are military personnel, including some who have recently returned from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. I know your families are glad to have you back. They’re proud of your service, and so is our country. On behalf of all Americans, welcome home, and job well done.

We also honor all of our fellow Americans serving far away from home during the holidays. Separation from loved ones is especially difficult this time of year. Our people in uniform can know that their families miss them and love them, that millions are praying for them, and that America is grateful for the men and women who serve and defend our country.

The story of Christmas is familiar to us all, and it still holds a sense of wonder and surprise. When the good news came first to a young woman from Nazareth, her response was understandable. She asked, “How can this be?” The news would bring difficulty to her family and suspicion upon herself. Yet, Mary gave her reply, “Be it unto me according to Thy word.” The wait for a new king had been long, and the manner of his arrival was not as many had expected. The king’s first cries were heard by shepherds and cattle. He was raised by a carpenter’s son.

Yet this one humble life lifted the sights of humanity forever. And in His words we hear a voice like no other. Across the generations, the poor have heard words of hope, the proud have heard words of challenge, and the weak and the dying have heard words of assurance. And mankind has been given a message first delivered by angels on a shepherd’s field: “Fear not.”

As we near Christmas in a time of war, these words bring comfort. We don’t know all of God’s ways, yet the Christmas story promises that God’s purpose is justice and His plan is peace. At times this belief is tested. During the Civil War, Longfellow wrote a poem that later became a part of a Christmas carol, “Hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on Earth, good will to men.”

That poem also reminds us that hate is not the final word: “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, ‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep, the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on Earth, good will to men.”‘

And now as an expression of our own hope for peace in this Christmas season, we light the national tree. Maggie Stuempfle and Andre Joyner are with us here. They’re members of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Laura and I would like to ask Maggie and Andre to come up, and we’ll turn on the lights. But I ask you all to join us in a national count down, starting with five, four, three, two, one.

Read more at the American Presidency Project:www.presidency.ucsb.eduhttp://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=63610#ixzz1hBPALXEt

Christmas Greeting to the Nation.
December 24, 1935

Once more the most joyous of all days draws near and again it is my great privilege on this blessed Eve of the Nativity to wish the American people everywhere a Merry Christmas.

This is the third time that I have joined in these Christmas Eve festivities. We are gathered together in a typical American setting in the park here in front of the White House. Before me and around me is an American assemblage—men and women of all ages, youths and maidens, young children who know nothing about the cares of life—all jubilant with joyous expectation.

The night is falling and the spirit of other days, too, broods over the scene. Andrew Jackson looks down upon us from his prancing steed; and the four corners of the square in which we are gathered around a gaily lit Christmas tree are guarded by the figures of intrepid leaders in the Revolutionary War—Von Steuben, the German; Kosciusko, the Pole; and Lafayette and Rochambeau from the shores of France.

This is in keeping with the universal spirit of the festival we are celebrating; for we who stand here among our guardians out of the past and from far shores are, I suppose, as diverse in blood and origin as are the uncounted millions throughout the land to whom these words go out tonight. But around the Manger of the Babe of Bethlehem “all Nations and kindreds and tongues” find unity. For the spirit of Christmas knows no race, no creed, no clime, no limitation of time or space.

The spirit of Christmas breathes an eternal message of peace and good-will to all men. We pause therefore on this Holy Night and, laying down the burdens and the cares of life and casting aside the anxieties of the common day, rejoice that nineteen hundred years ago, heralded by angels, there came into the world One whose message was of peace, who gave to all mankind a new commandment of love. In that message of love and of peace we find the true meaning of Christmas.

And so I greet you with the greeting of the Angels on that first Christmas at Bethlehem which, resounding through centuries, still rings out with its eternal message: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will to men.”

Read more at the American Presidency Project:www.presidency.ucsb.eduhttp://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15005#ixzz1hBO5VItk

Address in Connection With Lighting of the National Community Christmas Tree on the White House Grounds.
December 24, 1949
[Broadcast nationally at 5:15 p.m.]

My fellow countrymen:

To each, to all, a Merry Christmas.

Once more I have come out to Independence to celebrate Christmas with my family. We are back among old friends and neighbors around our own fireside. Christmas is the great epic of home. Our homecoming here on this Christmas Eve in familiar surroundings sanctified by family associations through the years–memories of joys and sorrows, of life and death–is typical of similar family gatherings all over the country.

The memories of most of us go back to childhood when we think of Christmas. After all, the first Christmas had its beginning in the coming of a Little Child. It remains a child’s day, a day of childhood love and of childhood memories. That feeling of love has clung to this day down all the centuries from the first Christmas. There has clustered around Christmas Day the feeling of warmth, of kindness, of innocence, of love-the love of little children–the love for them–the love that was in the heart of the Little Child whose birthday it is.

Through that child love, there came to all mankind the love of a Divine Father and a Blessed Mother so that the love of the Holy Family could be shared by the whole human family. These are some of the thoughts that came to mind as I gave the signal to light our National Christmas Tree in the south grounds of the White House.

Sitting here in my own home, so like other homes all over America, I have been thinking about some families in other once happy lands. We must not forget that there are thousands and thousands of families homeless, hopeless, destitute, and torn with despair on this Christmas Eve. For them as for the Holy Family on the first Christmas, there is no room in the inn. Among these families–broken with the tragedy of homelessness–are myriads of little children who have never known what it was to have a home or a country that they or their parents or their brothers and sisters could call their own.

Let us not on this Christmas, in our enjoyment of the abundance with which Providence has endowed us, forget those who, because of the cruelty of war, have no shelter–those multitudes for whom, in the phrase of historic irony, there is no room in the inn.

In this blessed season, let not blind passion darken our counsels. We shall not solve a moral question by dodging it. We can scarcely hope to have a full Christmas if we turn a deaf ear to the suffering of even the least of Christ’s little ones.

Since returning home, I have been reading again in our family Bible some of the passages which foretold this night. It was that grand old seer Isaiah who prophesied in the Old Testament the sublime event which found fulfillment almost 2,000 years ago. Just as Isaiah foresaw the coming of Christ, so another battler for the Lord, St. Paul, summed up the law and the prophets in a glorification of love which he exalts even above both faith and hope.

We miss the spirit of Christmas if we consider the Incarnation as an indistinct and doubtful, far-off event unrelated to our present problems. We miss the purport of Christ’s birth if we do not accept it as a living link which joins us together in spirit as children of the ever-living and true God. In love alone–the love of God and the love of man–will be found the solution of all the ills which afflict the world today. Slowly, sometimes painfully, but always with increasing purpose, emerges the great message of christianity: only with wisdom comes joy, and with greatness comes love.

In the spirit of the Christ Child–as little children with joy in our hearts and peace in our souls–let us, as a nation, dedicate ourselves anew to the love of our fellowmen. In such a dedication we shall find the message of the Child of Bethlehem, the real meaning of Christmas.

Read more at the American Presidency Project:www.presidency.ucsb.eduhttp://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=13373#ixzz1hBOSGiSO

 

From Wallbuilders: Even though Christmas did not become a national holiday until 1870, it has a centuries old history in America. Interestingly, in colonial America, the southern regions that were more directly linked to High-Church traditions (e.g., Anglicans, Catholics, Episcopalians) celebrated Christmas; but the northern regions especially linked to Low-Church traditions (e.g., Congregationalists, Baptists, Quakers) did not. Those Low-Church colonists associated the pomp and grandeur of Christmas celebrations directly with the autocratic leaders and monarchs in Europe that they so opposed.

Massachusetts therefore passed an anti-Christmas law in 1659, and it was not until the 1830s and 1840s that Christmas celebrations became accepted in New England (although as late as 1870, a student missing school on Christmas Day in Boston public schools could be punished or expelled). But by the 1880s, Christmas celebrations were finally accepted across the country and began to appear at the White House. For example:

  • In 1889, the first indoor decorated tree was placed in the White House, and in 1895, electric lights were added.
  • In 1923, the first National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony was held. In 1954 it was named the Pageant of Peace but in 1969 it became embroiled in a legal controversy over the use of religious symbols. In 1973, the nativity scene that had always been part of the Pageant was no longer allowed, but in 1984, it returned.
  • In 1953, the first White House Christmas card was created by President Dwight Eisenhower. (Ike was an artist in his own right and allowed six of his own paintings to be used as Christmas gifts and cards.) President Kennedy’s 1963 Christmas card was the first to include an explicitly religious element, featuring a photo of a nativity scene. And in 2001, the first White House Christmas card to contain a Scripture was chosen by Laura Bush. It quoted Psalm 27: “Thy face, Lord, do I seek. I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living” – a Scripture she had chosen on September 16 (only 5 days after 9/11), based on a special sermon preached at Camp David.

Christmas was celebrated by our national leaders as a religious holiday, not the secular holiday it has become. Read more: http://www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=80560

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