Since 1870, the United States has officially celebrated Christmas as a nation and as a result has declared as a nation the belief in the coming of the Savior to earth. Just as the official Thanksgiving proclamations of the Presidents declare that our nation depends upon the grace and mercy of the LORD God to exist, the celebration of Christmas declares the nation’s faith in the manifestation of that grace and mercy in the birth of the Messiah.
Harry S. Truman
Address at the Lighting of the National Community Christmas Tree on the White House Grounds
December 24, 1945
Ladies and gentlemen, and listeners of the radio audience:
This is the Christmas that a war-weary world has prayed for through long and awful years. With peace come joy and gladness. The gloom of the war years fades as once more we light the National Community Christmas Tree. We meet in the spirit of the first Christmas, when the midnight choir sang the hymn of joy: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Let us not forget that the coming of the Saviour brought a time of long peace to the Roman World. It is, therefore, fitting for us to remember that the spirit of Christmas is the spirit of peace, of love, of charity to all men. From the manger of Bethlehem came a new appeal to the minds and hearts of men: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another.”
In love, which is the very essence of the message of the Prince of Peace, the world would find a solution for all its ills. I do not believe there is one problem in this country or in the world today which could not be settled if approached through the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. The poets’ dream, the lesson of priest and patriarch and the prophets’ vision of a new heaven and a new earth, all are summed up in the message delivered in the Judean hills beside the Sea of Galilee. Would that the world would accept that message in this time of its greatest need!
This is a solemn hour. In the stillness of the Eve of the Nativity when the hopes of mankind hang on the peace that was offered to the world nineteen centuries ago, it is but natural, while we survey our destiny, that we give thought also to our past–to some of the things which have gone into the making of our Nation.
You will remember that Saint Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, and his companions, suffering shipwreck, “cast four anchors out of the stern and wished for the day.” Happily for us, whenever the American Ship of State has been storm-tossed we have always had an anchor to the windward.
We are met on the South Lawn of the White House. The setting is a reminder of Saint Paul’s four anchors. To one side is the massive pile of the Washington Monument–fit symbol of our first anchor. On the opposite end of Potomac Park is the memorial to another of the anchors which we see when we look astern of the Ship of State–Abraham Lincoln, who preserved the Union that Washington wrought.
Between them is the memorial to Thomas Jefferson, the anchor of democracy. On the other side of the White House, in bronze, rides Andrew Jackson–fourth of our anchors–the pedestal of his monument bearing his immortal words: “Our Federal Union–it must be preserved.”
It is well in this solemn hour that we bow to Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, and Lincoln as we face our destiny with its hopes and fears-its burdens and its responsibilities. Out of the past we shall gather wisdom and inspiration to chart our future course.
With our enemies vanquished we must gird ourselves for the work that lies ahead. Peace has its victories no less hard won than success at arms. We must not fail or falter. We must strive without ceasing to make real the prophecy of Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
In this day, whether it be far or near, the Kingdoms of this world shall become indeed the Kingdom of God and He will reign forever and ever, Lord of Lords and King of Kings. With that message I wish my countrymen a Merry Christmas and joyous days in the New Year.
Address at the Lighting of the National Community Christmas Tree on the White House Grounds.
December 24, 1946
Fellow citizens everywhere:
Again our thoughts and aspirations and the hopes of future years turn to a little town in the hills of Judea where on a winter’s night two thousand years ago the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled.
Shepherds keeping the watch by night over their flock heard the glad tidings of great joy from the angels of the Lord singing, “Glory to God in the Highest and on Earth, peace, good will toward men.”
The message of Bethlehem best sums up our hopes tonight. If we as a nation, and the other nations of the world, will accept it, the star of faith will guide us into the place of peace as it did the shepherds on that day of Christ’s birth long ago.
I am sorry to say all is not harmony in the world today. We have found that it is easier for men to die together on the field of battle than it is for them to live together at home in peace. But those who died have died in vain if in some measure, at least, we shall not preserve for the peace that spiritual unity in which we won the war.
The problems facing the United Nations-the world’s hope for peace–would overwhelm faint hearts. But, as we continue to labor for an enduring peace through that great organization, we must remember that the world was not created in a day. We shall find strength and courage at this Christmas time because so brave a beginning has been made. So with faith and courage we shall work to hasten the day when the sword is replaced by the plowshare and nations do not “learn war any more.”
Selfishness and greed, individual or national, cause most of our troubles. He whose birth we celebrate tonight was the world’s greatest teacher. He said:
“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.”
Through all the centuries since He spoke, history has vindicated His teaching.
In this great country of ours has been demonstrated the fundamental unity of Christianity and democracy. Under our heritage of freedom for everyone on equal terms, we also share the responsibilities of government. Our support of individual freedom–free speech, free schools, free press, and a free conscience–transcends all our differences. Although we may not hope for a New Heaven and a New Earth in our day and generation; we may strive with undaunted faith and courage to achieve in the present some measure of that unity with which the Nation’s sons and the sons of our allies went forth to win the war.
We have this glorious land not because of a particular religious faith, not because our ancestors sailed from a particular foreign port. We have our unique national heritage because of a common aspiration to be free and because of our purpose to achieve for ourselves and for our children the good things of life which the Christ declared He came to give to all mankind.
We have made a good start toward peace in the world. Ahead of us lies the larger task of making the peace secure.
The progress we have made gives hope that in the coming year we shall reach our goal. May 1947 entitle us to the benediction of the Master: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”
Because of what we have achieved for peace, because of all the promise our future holds, I say to all my countrymen: Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas, and may God bless you all!
Address at the Lighting of the National Community Christmas Tree on the White House Grounds.
December 24, 1947
My fellow countrymen:
We are met on the south lawn of the White House. Above the barren treetops rises the towering shaft of the Washington Monument. The scene is peaceful and tranquil. The shadows deepen and the Holy Night falls gently over the National Capital as we gather around our Christmas tree.
Down the ages from the first Christmas through all the years of nineteen centuries, mankind in its weary pilgrimage through a changing world has been cheered and strengthened by the message of Christmas.
The angels sang for joy at the first Christmas in faraway Bethlehem. Their song has echoed through the corridors of time and will continue to sustain the heart of man through eternity.
Let us not forget that the first Christmas was a homeless one. A humble man and woman had gone up from Galilee out of the City of Nazareth to Bethlehem. There is a sense of desolation in St. Luke’s brief chronicle that Mary “brought forth her firstborn son, wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”
For many of our brethren in Europe and Asia this too will be a homeless Christmas. There can be little happiness for those who will keep another Christmas in poverty and exile and in separation from their loved ones. As we prepare to celebrate our Christmas this year in a land of plenty, we would be heartless indeed if we were indifferent to the plight of less fortunate peoples overseas.
We must not forget that our Revolutionary fathers also knew a Christmas of suffering and desolation. Washington wrote from Valley Forge 2 days before Christmas in 1777: “We have this day no less than 2,873 men in camp unfit for duty because they are barefooted and otherwise naked.”
We can be thankful that our people have risen today, as did our forefathers in Washington’s time, to our obligation and our opportunity.
At this point in the world’s history, the words of St. Paul have greater significance than ever before. He said:
“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
We believe this. We accept it as a basic principle of our lives. The great heart of the American people has been moved to compassion by the needs of those in other lands who are cold and hungry.
We have supplied a part of their needs and we shall do more. In this, we are maintaining the American tradition.
In extending aid to our less fortunate brothers we are developing in their hearts the return of “hope.” Because of our forts, the people of other lands see the advent of a new day in which they can lead lives free from the harrowing fear of starvation and want.
With the return of hope to these peoples will come renewed faith–faith in the dignity of the individual and the brotherhood of man.
The world grows old but the spirit of Christmas is ever young.
Happily for all mankind, the spirit of Christmas survives travail and suffering because it fills us with hope of better things to come. Let us then put our trust in the unerring Star which guided the Wise Men to the Manger of Bethlehem. Let us hearken again to the Angel Choir singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
With hope for the future and with faith in God, I wish all my countrymen a very Merry Christmas.
Radio Remarks on the Occasion of the Lighting of the Community Christmas Tree on the White House Grounds.
December 24, 1948
My fellow countrymen:
I now light the National Community Christmas Tree on the lawn of the White House in Washington.
I have come out here to Independence with my family to celebrate the great home festival. For of all the days of the year Christmas is the family day. Christmas began that way.
The moving event of the first Christmas was the bringing forth of the first born in the stable in Bethlehem. There began in humble surroundings the home life of the Holy Family glorified in song and story and in the hearts of men down through the centuries. The great joys and mysteries of that event have forever sanctified and enriched all home life.
The Christmas tree which we have just lighted in the South Grounds of the White House back in Washington symbolizes the family life of the Nation. There are no ties like family ties. That is why I have made the journey back to Independence to celebrate this Christmas Day among the familiar scenes and associations of my old hometown.
These family ties reach out tonight to embrace the town, the State, the country, all of America–the whole world. The hallowed associations of Christmas draw all hearts toward home. With one accord we receive with joy and reverence the message of the first Christmas: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will to men.”
This country, big as it has grown, has always been a close-knit community. It has had to be strong, too.
We needed the strength of giants and heroic courage to bring nature and the elements under control; to build our towns-and that is particularly true here in Independence-and to extend our frontiers. We all know what the covered wagon symbolized.
But with all our strength we have always had a deep feeling of compassion–a human sympathy for the underdog, the oppressed of all lands, for all who bear heavy burdens. That is a part of the American spirit.
I have been thinking of all these things here in my home on North Delaware Street in Independence. I am speaking to you from our family living room. As I came up the street in the gathering dusk, I saw a hundred commonplace things that are hallowed to me on this Christmas Eve–hallowed because of their associations with the sanctuary of home.
I saw the lighted windows in the homes of my neighbors, the gaily decked Christmas trees, and the friendly lawns and gardens. The branches of the trees were bare and stark but somehow they looked familiar and friendly. I looked at all these familiar things–the same things that you all will see tonight as you go toward home.
These are the thoughts–simple, commonplace, everyday thoughts–that we all share tonight.
They are the thoughts that bind us together, one to another. They make up the great American epic–the epic of the home.
Yes, America is a big, friendly community. Maybe that is why we realize that we are a part of the whole world.
We have had difficult problems, and that is why we can understand the problems of other peoples.
Our own struggle fostered this feeling of good will. And good will, after all, is the very essence of Christmas: peace and friendship to men of good will.
I want to say once more, with all the emphasis that I can command, that I am working for peace. I shall continue to work for peace. What could be more appropriate than for all of us to dedicate ourselves to the cause of peace on this Holy Night.
As a Nation we have a history of a little more than a century and a half. But the religion which came to the world heralded by the song of the Angels has endured for nineteen centuries. It will continue to endure. It remains today the world’s best hope for peace if the world will accept its fundamental teaching that all men are brothers.
“God that made the world and all things therein . . . hath made of one blood all nations of man for to dwell on all the face of the earth.”
In the spirit of that message from the Acts of the Apostles, I wish all of you a Merry Christmas.
Address in Connection With Lighting of the National Community Christmas Tree on the White House Grounds.
December 24, 1949
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.
Address Recorded for Broadcast on the Occasion of the Lighting of the National Community Christmas Tree on the White House Grounds.
December 24, 1950
ALL OVER our country and in many other parts of the world, men, women, and children are preparing to celebrate the birthday of Christ.
Never before in our lives has a Christmas seemed so important. I am not thinking of turkey dinners and stacks of gifts. I mean the quiet, reverent celebration of the faith, hope, and love–born in a manger in Bethlehem.
Across all the continents of this world, peace-loving people today feel apprehension and loneliness and fear.
Many have forgotten the humble surroundings of the nativity and how, from a straw-littered stable, shone a light which for nearly 20 centuries has given men strength, comfort, and peace.
At this Christmastime we should renew our faith in God. We celebrate the hour in which God came to man. It is fitting that we should turn to Him.
Many of us are fortunate enough to celebrate Christmas at our own fireside.
But there are many others who are away from their homes and loved ones on this day. Thousands of our boys are on the cold and dreary battlefield of Korea.
But all of us–at home, at war, wherever we may be–are within reach of God’s love and power. We all can pray. We all should pray.
We should ask the fulfillment of God’s will. We should ask for courage, wisdom, for the quietness of soul which comes alone to them who place their lives in His hands.
We should pray for a peace which is the fruit of righteousness.
The Nation already is in the midst of a Crusade of Prayer. On the last Sunday of the old year, there will be special services devoted to a revival of faith.
I call upon all of you to enlist in this common cause. I call upon you no matter what your spiritual allegiance.
We are all joined in the fight against the tyranny of communism. Communism is godless. Democracy is the harvest of faith–faith in one’s self, faith in one’s neighbors, faith in God.
Democracy’s most powerful weapon is not a gun, tank, or bomb. It is faith–faith in the brotherhood and dignity of man under God.
Let us pray at this Christmastime for the wisdom, the humility, and the courage to carry on in this faith.
Address in Connection With the Lighting of the National Community Christmas Tree on the White House Grounds.
December 24, 1951
CHRISTMAS is the great home festival. It is the day in all the year which turns our thoughts toward home.
And so I am spending Christmas in my old home in Independence with my family and friends. As the Christmas tree is lighted on the White House grounds in Washington, I am glad to send this greeting to all of my countrymen.
Tonight we think of the birth of a Little Child in the City of David nineteen and a half centuries ago. In that humble birth God gave his message of love to the world. At this Christmas time the world is distracted by doubt and despair, torn by anger, envy and ill will. But our lesson should still be that same message of love, symbolized by the birth of the Redeemer of the World in a manger “because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Our hearts are saddened on this Christmas Eve by the suffering and the sacrifice of our brave men and women in Korea. We miss our boys and girls who are out there. They are protecting us, and all free men, from aggression. They are trying to prevent another world war. We honor them for the great job they are doing. We pray to the Prince of Peace for their success and safety.
As we think about Korea, we should also think of another Christmas, 10 years ago, in 1941. That was just after Pearl Harbor, and the whole world was at war. Then almost every country, almost every home, was overshadowed by fear and sorrow.
The world is still in danger tonight, but a great change has come about. A new spirit has been born, and has grown up in the world, although perhaps we do not fully realize it. The struggle we are making today has a new and hopeful meaning.
Ten years ago total war was no longer a threat but a tragic reality. In those grim days, our Nation was straining all its efforts in a war of survival. It was not peace–not the prevention of war–but the stark reality of total war itself that filled our minds and overwhelmed our hearts and souls at Christmas, 1941.
Tonight we have a different goal, and a higher hope. Despite difficulties, the free nations of the world have drawn together solidly for a great purpose: not solely to defend themselves; not merely to win a bloody war if it should come; but for the purpose of creating a real peace–a peace that shah be a positive reality and not an empty hope; a just and lasting peace.
When we look toward the battlefields of Korea, we see a conflict like no other in history. There the forces of the United Nations are fighting–not for territory, not for plunder, not to rule the lives of captive people. In Korea the free nations are proving, by deeds, that man is free and must remain free, that aggression must end, that nations must obey the law.
We still have a long struggle ahead of us before we can reach our goal of peace. In the words of the Bible, the day is not yet here when the bow shall be broken, and the lance cut off, and the chariot burned. But we have faith that that day will come.
We will be strong so long as we keep that faith–the faith that can move mountains, the faith which, as St. Paul says, is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Let us ask God to bless our efforts and redeem our faults. Let us resolve to follow his commandments–to carry the gospel to the poor; heal the brokenhearted; preach deliverance to the captive; give freedom to the slave. Let us try to do all things in that spirit of brotherly love that was revealed to mankind at Bethlehem on the first Christmas day.
The victory we seek is the victory of peace. That victory is promised to us. It was promised to us long ago, in the words of the angel choir that sang over Bethlehem: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
To all my countrymen: Merry Christmas.
Remarks Upon Lighting the National Community Christmas Tree.
December 24, 1952
My fellow Americans:
As we light this National Christmas tree tonight, here on the White House lawn-as all of us light our own Christmas trees in our own homes–we remember another night long ago. Then a Child was born in a stable. A star hovered over, drawing wise men from afar. Shepherds, in a field, heard angels singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” That was the first Christmas and it was God’s great gift to us.
This is a wonderful story. Year after year it brings peace and tranquility to troubled hearts in a troubled world. And tonight the earth seems hushed, as we turn to the old, old story of how “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Tonight, our hearts turn first of all to our brave men and women in Korea. They are fighting and suffering and even dying that we may preserve the chance of peace in the world. The struggle there has been long and bitter. But it has a hopeful meaning.
It has a hopeful meaning because it is the common struggle of many free nations which have joined together to seek a just and lasting peace. We know, all of us, that this is the only way we can bring about peace in the conditions of our time on this earth. Whether we shall succeed depends upon our patience and fortitude. We still have a long road ahead of us before we reach our goal. We must remain steadfast.
And as we go about our business of trying to achieve peace in the world, let us remember always to try to act and live in the spirit of the Prince of Peace. He bore in His heart no hate and no malice–nothing but love for all mankind. We should try as nearly as we can to follow His example.
Our efforts to establish law and order in the world are not directed against any nation or any people. We seek only a universal peace, where all nations shall be free and all peoples shall enjoy their inalienable human rights. We believe that all men are truly the children of God.
As we worship at this Christmastide, let us worship in this spirit. As we pray for our loved ones far from home–as we pray for our men and women in Korea, and all our service men and women wherever they are–let us also pray for our enemies. Let us pray that the spirit of God shall enter their lives and prevail in their lands. Let us pray for a fulfillment of the brotherhood of man.
Through Jesus Christ the world will yet be a better and a fairer place. This faith sustains us today as it has sustained mankind for centuries past. This is why the Christmas story, with the bright stars shining and the angels singing, moves us to wonder and stirs our hearts to praise.
Now, my fellow countrymen, I wish for all of you a Christmas filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, and many years of future happiness with the peace of God reigning upon this earth.