Presidential Christmas Messages – Jimmy Carter

Presidential Christmas Messages

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.

Jimmy Carter

Christmas 1977
Christmas 1977

Christmas Pageant of Peace Remarks on Lighting the National Community Christmas Tree.
December 15, 1977

Thank you. Merry Christmas, everybody.

This is a time of year when we try to forget our worries and our tribulations, our arguments and our differences, our doubts and fears about the future, and look on the positive side of life.

We try to search for confidence and for security. We try to reach out our hands to our friends, those whom we see every day and those whom we tend to forget during the rest of the year.

Christmas is also a time of tradition. This is a time to look back, to see the fine things of life that, because they are so good and decent, have been preserved.

This evening, we have a ceremony that will commemorate one of those commitments. For more than 50 years, since Calvin Coolidge lived in the White House, every single President has been over to join in the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. This also commemorates a continuity of beliefs–belief in one another, belief in our Nation, belief in principles like honesty and justice and freedom, and our religious beliefs, above all.

Ours is a nation of peace, and I thank God that our Nation is at peace. We not only preserve a peaceful life for those who live in the United States, but one of the major commitments of our leaders before me and now is to try to institute an opportunity for peaceful existence for others. In regions that might be torn with war, we try to bring friendship, and in regions of the world that are torn by disputes, we try to bring understanding.

We’ve seen two great leaders in recent weeks, the President of Egypt, the Prime Minister of Israel, lead in a dramatic way and, indeed, inspire the world with courage. And it is strange, isn’t it, that it requires courage just to search for peace under some circumstances. Well, our Nation has been a bulwark where those who want peace can turn, and the staunchness of our commitment has been and can be an inspiration to others.

A few months ago, I designated December 15, today, as a day of prayer. And I hope that all of you in this great audience and all who watch and listen on television, radio, will make a special promise to yourselves during this holiday season to pray for guidance in our lives, purposes, guidance for the wisdom and commitment and honesty of public officials and other leaders, guidance that we can see our Nation realize its great potential and the vision that formed it 200 years ago, and guidance that we will fulfill our deepest moral and religious commitments.

We look back on our own personal lives. Cecil Andrus remembered his family. I remember my own when I was a child and when Christmas was a day that we thought about 365 days a year–looking forward with anticipation, trying to measure up with standards, looking around our shoulders to see who was watching our performance. And sometimes I know that when we look back, we tend to put a rosy attitude or picture of what actually occurred. My favorite poet is Dylan Thomas, and he wrote “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” and he tried to point out the confusion that sometimes exists in the mind of an adult about childhood, when he said he couldn’t remember whether it snowed 6 days and 6 nights when he was 12 or snowed 12 days and 12 nights when he was 6. But it didn’t really matter, because the memory was precious even though it was slightly confused.

We’ve never seen it snow in Plains on Christmas, but we’re going back to Plains next week to be with our friends, to be with our families, to be with those who have loved us throughout a lifetime and those whom we still love, for Christmas is also a time of celebration, of festivity, of enjoyment, of pleasure, of self-gratification, even. And there is no incompatibility between memories, religious beliefs, tradition, peace, and going back home and being happy. They all kind of tie together.

Our Nation is not one of solemn faces and sad demeanors, but our Nation is one of hope and vision and even happiness. And Christmas is a time to remind us that even when we do suffer and are disappointed in the United States and live even a dismal life, compared to our own immediate neighbors, compared to most of the rest of the world, we indeed have a joyous life and a wonderful life. God has blessed us in this country.

Well, in closing, let me say that Christmas has a special meaning for those of us who are Christians, those of us who believe in Christ, those of us who know that almost 2,000 years ago, the Son of Peace was born to give us a vision of perfection, a vision of humility, a vision of unselfishness, a vision of compassion, a vision of love.

Those are exactly the same words that describe our theme this year. The theme is “The American Family.” And I hope that we’ll make every effort during this Christmas season not only to bring our immediate family together but to look at the family of all humankind, so that we not any longer cherish a commitment toward animosity or the retention of enemies but that we forgive one another and, indeed, form a worldwide family where every human being on Earth is our brother or our sister.

Thank you for letting me come and meet with you and to remind each of you that Christmas is a time for recommitment of each life to the finest ideals that we can possibly envision.
Thank you very much.

Christmas 1977 Message of the President,
December 24, 1977

At this joyous season, Rosalynn and I extend our warmest wishes to all of our fellow citizens who celebrate Christmas. This is a very special Christmas for us and our family. We are deeply grateful for all the help and affection the American people have given us during this challenging and rewarding year.

Our country has been especially blessed throughout our history. In this season of hope we seek, as individuals and as a nation, to serve as instruments to bring the ancient promises of peace and good will closer to fulfillment for all the peoples of the earth.

May you have a merry Christmas and very satisfying and happy New Year.


Jimmy Carter lights the National Christmas Tree at the Christmas Pageant of Peace., 12/14/1978
Jimmy Carter lights the National Christmas Tree at the Christmas Pageant of Peace., 12/14/1978

Christmas Pageant of Peace Remarks on Lighting the National Community Christmas Tree.
December 14, 1978

THE PRESIDENT. Merry Christmas!

AUDIENCE. Merry Christmas!

THE PRESIDENT. Come on—Merry Christmas, everybody !

AUDIENCE. Merry Christmas!

THE PRESIDENT. That’s better.

As you well know, the theme of this year’s Pageant of Peace is unity. There is much to divide us in this world. And sometimes we concentrate too much of our attention on those divisions among us. But Christmas is a good time to recall how much unites us as people and also as nations. We are united in our belief in human dignity, in our conviction that the most likely way to find the truth is to free people’s minds and consciences, and that the least likely way to find the truth is to silence people’s voices and to try to make them deny what they really believe.

Our country is entering a period of healing and of hope. We are joining together as a people again, realizing the strength of a common purpose. We are blessed with warm fires and warm memories and the. voices of children singing of joy in the night. I think that God in His great wisdom knew that we needed these things to help us face the cold and sometimes lonely times. We need the joy of children’s voices to remind us that the only things that we can truly give to each other are the only things that we truly need—an ear to listen, a heart to care, a word of encouragement, and a hand to help.

At Christmas, we have not only this year’s special moments but the rich store of all Christmases past to remember and to use.

When I was growing up, President Franklin Roosevelt was lighting the Nation’s Christmas tree. During the difficult years of the Depression, and later during the Second World War, too many of our own Nation’s Christmases have been shadowed by war. We are fortunate as we light this Christmas tree tonight that our Nation and most of the nations of the world are not at war

This is always a matter of concern, the threat of violence in many corners of the: globe. But this Christmas is a time of relative calm and also a time of great hope. Two ancient enemies are on the threshold of an agreement that could bring peace to the Middle East. It is my earnest prayer that the day will soon come when all children in the Middle East can play in the sunshine without fear, when their young men and women can turn their energies and talents away from war and death, to making the deserts fruitful and to building, instead of preparing to destroy.

The Prophet Isaiah, who wrote about ancient wars between Israel and her neighbors, tells us that the work of righteousness is peace. The United States has tried this year to help other nations find peace. We have succeeded in several troubled areas in getting people to talk to each other and to work out their differences without resorting to violence and to war.

I hope that the time has passed when people excuse the pain and destruction and death and see war in itself as a demonstration of national heroism. This generation, our generation, has seen too much of war’s desolation. We’ve seen what it can do spiritually, as well as physically, to a people. War is no longer the brave sound of parades and drums and trumpets. We’ve seen it as it is, the loss of the young in the full flower of their promise, the death of families and entire communities, and the threat of nuclear devastation for the world.

I think the world is more ready than ever before to understand the thrust of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words that peace is victory for both sides. I believe that nations may be ready now to accept the possibility that those whom they have called enemies might live undisturbed on Earth and that we might at last learn to call even enemies brothers and sisters.

Perhaps at last the same fervor and commitment and sense of high purpose with which we once sought victory in war can now be devoted to our search for peace. And then we will truly be able to say in our hearts, for the fulfillment of the ancient promise of peace on Earth, good will toward men.

The evergreen tree that we use at Christmas is a symbol of eternal life, and also of the perpetual renewal of life. As I light out’ Nation’s Christmas tree, and whenever you see a glowing tree this Christmas, I hope that you will see it as a rekindling of our faith and hope and our dedication to the cause of unity and a great nation’s influence throughout the world for peace on Earth.

Thank you very much. And now we’ll proceed to wish all the world a happy Christmas by lighting the Christmas tree together.

Christmas 1978 Message of the President.
December 18, 1978

Rosalynn and I send our warmest wishes to our fellow citizens who celebrate the birth of Christ and who rejoice with us in the coming of the peace He symbolizes.

We welcome this opportunity to offer our thanks to those who have given us their encouragement and prayers.

We also join in this Season’s traditional expression of appreciation to God for His blessings in the past year. And we ask for His continuing guidance and protection as we face the challenges of 1979.

We hope that the months ahead will be good to each of you and to our country.


President Carter and First Daughter Amy Carter at the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony in 1979
President Carter and First Daughter Amy Carter at the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony in 1979

Christmas Pageant of Peace Remarks on Lighting the National Community Christmas Tree.
December 13, 1979

Christmas means a lot of things. It means love. It means warmth. It means friendship. It means family. It means joy. It means light. But everyone this Christmas will not be experiencing those deep feelings. At this moment there are 50 Americans who don’t have freedom, who don’t have joy, and who don’t have warmth, who don’t have their families with them. And there are 50 American families in this Nation who also will not experience all the joys and the light and the happiness of Christmas.

I think it would be appropriate for all those in this audience and for all those listening to my voice or watching on television to pause just for a few seconds in a silent prayer that American hostages will come home safe and come home soon—if you’d please join me just for a moment. [Pause for silent prayer.]
Thank you very much.

Nineteen seventy-nine has not been a bad year. Many good things have happened to us individually and have also happened to our Nation. Not far from here, on the north side of the White House, we saw a remarkable ceremony, headed by a Jew, the leader of Israel, a Moslem, the President of Egypt, and myself, a Christian, the President of our country, signing a treaty of peace. This peace treaty was a historic development, and it was compatible with the commitment that we feel so deeply in the religious season now upon us.

Our Nation also opened up its arms of understanding, diplomatic relationships, and friendship—our Nation, the strong. est on Earth, and China, the most populous nation on Earth. The establishment of new friendships is part of the Christmas Season.

I went to Vienna and met with President Brezhnev. And he and I signed the SALT II treaty, which will help to limit and to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons, to bring about a better understanding between our two great countries, and to search for the kind of reduction of armaments that will lead, I think, to the realization of the true spirit of Christmas.

This fall we had a visit from a great spiritual leader, Pope John Paul II, who traveled throughout our country and who spoke in a quiet voice of understanding, of compassion, of love, of commitment, of morality, of ethics, of the unchanging things that are part of the spirit of Christmas. And I remember one thing in particular that he said on the White House lawn. He said, “Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid.” And as you know, that’s the same message that the angels brought to the shepherds near Bethlehem the night that our Savior was born: “Fear not. Be not afraid.” Many of the problems in our world derive from fear, from a lack of confidence in ourselves and, particularly, a lack of confidence in what we can do, with God.

We hope we’ll soon see peace in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, a nation that has suffered much in the last few years. But we’ve also seen some needs for additional effort.

This is the Year of the Child, but it’s possibly true that in Cambodia, or Kampuchea, the children will have suffered more in 1979 than in any other year in our lifetime—children so weak, so starved, that they don’t even have the strength to cry. We’ve seen Vietnam refugees put to sea with very little hope of ever reaching land again. And our country has reached out its arms to help those starving children and those refugees adrift.

We’ve seen divisions among people because of religious beliefs. The recent events in Iran are an unfortunate example of that misguided application of belief in God. But I know that all Americans feel very deeply that the relationships between ourselves and the Moslem believers in the world of Islam is one of respect and care and brotherhood and good will and love.

So, we do have disappointments; we do have suffering; we do have divisions; we often have war. But in the midst of pain, we can still remember what Christmas is—a time of joy, a time of light, a time of warmth, a time of families, and a time of peace.

In our great country we have an awful lot for which we can be thankful: the birth of our Savior, the initiation of religious holidays tomorrow night for the Jews of America, and a realization that in our Nation we do have freedom to worship or not worship as we please. So, let’s remember our blessings, yes, but let’s also remember the needs for us to be more fervent in our belief in God and especially in the sharing of our blessings with others.

Thank you very much. Merry Christmas to you all.

And now we’ll go over Amy and I and Rosalynn—and we’ll light the lights that signify Christmas. Thank you very much. Is everybody ready?

I’m going to ask Amy to throw the switch.

[At this point, Amy Carter threw the switch that lit the star on top of the National Community Christmas Tree and the lights on the 50 smaller trees, which traditionally represent the 50 States.]

I want to tell you what just happened. Around the periphery of this crowd, there are 50 small Christmas trees, one for each American hostage and on the top of the great Christmas tree is a star of hope. We will turn on the other lights on the tree when the American hostages come home. Merry Christmas, everybody.

Christmas 1979 Statement by the President.
December 14, 1979

Rosalynn and I send our warmest Christmas greetings to those of our fellow citizens who celebrate this religious holiday.

At this time of traditional joy and family festivity, as we join in thanking God for His blessings to us as a nation and as individuals, we ask that you offer a special prayer for the Americans who are being held hostage in Iran and for their families. We remember also the plight of all people, whatever their nationality, who suffer from injustice, oppression, hunger, war, or terrorism.

May this Christmas season truly be the beginning of a time of peace among nations and good will among all peoples, and may the spirit of love and caring continue from this holy season through the coming year.

White House Christmas Card 1980
White House Christmas Card 1980

Christmas 1980 Statement by the President.
December 2, 1980

Rosalynn and I send special greetings and good wishes to those of our fellow citizens who join us in the joyous celebration of Christmas.

Together let us thank God for all the blessings He has given us and ask Him to sustain and strengthen us as individuals and as a nation. Let us also offer our prayers for those who live where there is strife, hunger, persecution, or injustice. May the year ahead be better for them and for their families and loved ones.

We hope that this holiday season will be a very happy and satisfying one for all Americans and that 1981 will bring us closer to the realization of our hopes and dreams.

Christmas Pageant of Peace Remarks on Lighting the National Community Christmas Tree.
December 18, 1980

THE PRESIDENT. Merry Christmas, everybody.
AUDIENCE. Merry Christmas.

THE PRESIDENT. Come on. Merry Christmas, everybody.
AUDIENCE. Merry Christmas!

THE PRESIDENT. Much better.

This is my fourth Christmas that, as President of our great country, I’ve been privileged to participate in the Pageant of Peace. Last year, we had a very sober Christmas, and we all were hoping that there would be an early release of the American hostages. And along with that, we prayed that their lives would be spared, that they would stay in touch with all Americans who love them, and that we would not be forced to give up either our hope or our faith in God.

Our American hostages have not yet come home. But most of our prayers have been answered. They have stayed in touch with their families. So far as we know, they are safe and their lives have been spared.

Last weekend the families of the American hostages met here in Washington again to have a briefing by the State Department officials, including the Secretary of State, about the status of the negotiations for their release and to receive the information that we have about how those hostages are getting along. I asked the families of the hostages whether or not they wanted all the lights on the Christmas tree to be lit tonight, or whether they wanted us to light just the Star of Hope on top of the tree and then all Americans to pray that the hostages would come home. At that time, we might light the other lights on the tree and celebrate their safe return. The hostage families asked me to do this year the same thing we did last year. And that is just to light the Star of Hope and to hold the other lights unlit until the hostages come home. And they also asked me to ask all Americans to continue to pray for the lives and safety of our hostages and for their early return to freedom.

And now I would like to ask us just for about half a minute to pray to God fervently for our hostages, their lives, their safety, and their early freedom. If everyone would join me just for a half minute. [Pause for silent prayer.]

Amen. And I want to ask all those who listen to my voice to continue to pray fervently that our prayers tonight for the hostages will be answered.

I am a Christian. I’m very proud of my faith. It’s the most important element of my life. But I’m also President of a nation that has a wide range of kinds of religions, and also a President of a nation that believes very fervently in the separation of church and state, which means, to put it in simple terms, that the Government cannot tell any American how to worship. We know down through history that many people’s lives have been lost, much blood has been shed, much hatred has been engendered because of religion. People have turned against one another, and even in recent years in the Middle East, the basis for the hatred and the misunderstanding, the bloodshed and the continued wars has been founded in a difference in religious belief.

Ours is a nation of immigrants, a nation of refugees, a nation of freedom, a nation of diversity. We don’t understand exactly how God works. God doesn’t always answer our prayers exactly the way we want Him to, and that’s the reason why this year, the Pageant of Peace has as its theme, Faith, because it requires faith on someone who believes in God to trust God to answer our prayers as He sees fit.

In the first Christmas, the people who lived in the land of the Jews were hoping for a Messiah. They prayed God to send them that savior, and when the shepherds arrived at the place to see their prayers answered they didn’t find a king, they found a little baby. And I’m sure they were very disappointed to see that God had not answered their prayers properly, but we Christians know that the prayers had been answered in a very wonderful way. God knew how to answer prayer. The people who offered prayers in a very narrow and human way didn’t understand how their prayers should be answered.

There was also a particular characteristic of that first Christmas, and that is gentleness, simplicity, love, a relationship between people who didn’t understand each other very well, but who came to have their lives changed because of a simple faith.

My background is as a farmer and farmers have to have a lot of faith in order to keep on every year, planting a crop, not having control over what’s going to happen next. You might think that cold winter, frozen land, snow, sleet, rain would not be a part of a successful farming operation. But God knows that in the wintertime the land has to lie fallow; there has to be a period of cold in order for the crops to grow when the Sun shines. A simple act of faith has been built up in farmers because of experience, yes, but because of their trust in God and in the future.

I noticed that our lovely Girl Scout’s name is Lillian Smith. Is that right? One of the very famous Georgia writers is named Lillian Smith, and she wrote a small book called, “Memory of a Large Christmas.” And to close my talk, let me tell you about that book.

Lillian Smith—a very famous writer—when she was a young child had a rich father. The family lived not very far from Plains, Georgia, and in that early part of her life, every Christmas they had a lot of presents, a big house, a lot of kinfolks, a lot of neighbors that came, and the Christmas was very happy. When she became a little older, her father lost everything he had, was absolutely bankrupt—the only thing he had left was a little tiny cottage in the mountains of north Georgia that they used to use as a game, for a summer camping place. That’s all they had.

So, they moved up to the north Georgia mountains in the wintertime, and they thought it was going to be the worst Christmas ever. They didn’t have any money. Their kinfolks were in south Georgia, they didn’t know their neighbors, and they approached the Christmas with a great deal of dread and trepidation. And as the Christmas day approached there was a chain gang working nearby. How many of you know what a chain gang is—or was? A chain gang used to be prisoners who had chains on their legs and on their arms and had to do hard labor, and the chain gang members were murderers, bank robbers, one of them had burned down a barn—they were despised people. And Lillian Smith’s father said, “Let’s have a great Christmas. Let’s invite the chain gang members to come and have Christmas with us.”

They didn’t have much to eat, nothing fancy, but they had enough to feed those despised, outcast people. And those chain gang members came in, the prisoners came into their little, tiny hut, and they began to laugh and sing songs and tell stories and eat the food heartily. They cleaned up the cabin, they washed the dishes, and they went back to a little railroad car that they were living in. It was very cold. And when they got through, Lillian Smith and her brothers and sisters and her parents agreed it was the greatest Christmas they ever had. It was a Christmas of simplicity, gentleness, understanding, and love among people who were quite different one from the other.

So, as we approach this Christmas, in a time of concern, trepidation, not knowing what the future is going to bring, let’s have faith that God will answer our prayers. And let’s not just have a faith that sits down and doesn’t move and waits for good things to happen, but a faith like the farmers have and like Lillian Smith’s father had, to reach out and use the gentleness and the love that we know about to encompass others in our hearts. That will warm us inside. That will tell us again what the birth of the Christ Child meant to us and be an expression of Christmas. And that kind of Christmas, filled with love for one another, is a Christmas that we all want and the world really needs.

It’s wonderful to be President of a great country like ours. And I wish you, and Rosalynn and Amy and all of us wish you a very, very merry Christmas.
Thank you very much.



Presidential Christmas Messages

Presidential Christmas Messages 4




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