Presidential Christmas Messages – Lyndon B. Johnson

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.

Lyndon B. Johnson

Lyndon B. Johnson with his family in the Yellow Oval Room, Christmas 1968
Lyndon B. Johnson with his family in the Yellow Oval Room, Christmas 1968

Remarks at a Candlelight Memorial Service for President Kennedy.
December 22, 1963

THIRTY DAYS and a few hours ago, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th President of the United States, died a martyr’s death. The world will not forget what he did here. He will live on in our hearts, which will be his shrine.

Throughout his life, he had malice toward none; he had charity for all. But a senseless act of mindless malice struck down this man of charity, and we shall never be the same.

One hundred years, thirty-three days, and several hours ago the 16th President of the United States made a few appropriate remarks at Gettysburg. The world has long remembered what he said there. He lives on in this memorial, which is his tabernacle.

As it was 100 years ago, so it is now. We have been bent in sorrow, but not in purpose. We buried Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy, but we did not bury their dreams or their visions.

They are our dreams and our visions today, for President Lincoln and John Kennedy moved toward those nobler dreams and those larger visions where the needs of the people dwell. Their fight for a better life for more people is their legacy to their countrymen. It is the coin by which their worth shall be counted. It is the gauge by which their memory shall be measured.

In this land and around the world, those whose hopes are meager plead for change. Those whose children are hungry or illiterate pray for sustenance and knowledge. Those whose dignity is blunted and whose liberties are scarce cry out for equality and decency and opportunity.

On this eve of Christmas, in this time of grief and unity, of sadness and continuity, let there be for all people in need the light of an era of new hope and a time of new resolve. Let the light shine and let this Christmas be our thanksgiving and our dedication.

May God bless this land and all who live in it.

So let us here on this Christmas night determine that John Kennedy did not live or die in vain, that this Nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of peace on earth, good will toward all men.

Note: The President spoke at 4 p.m. at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

President Lyndon B. Johnson poses with his wife and daughter 12/24/1963
President Lyndon B. Johnson poses with his wife and daughter 12/24/1963

Remarks at the Lighting of the Nation’s Christmas Tree.
December 22, 1963

Mr. Secretary:

Tonight we come to the end of the season of great national sorrow, and to the beginning of the season of great, eternal joy. We mourn our great President, John F. Kennedy, but he would have us go on. While our spirits cannot be light, our hearts need not be heavy.

We were taught by Him whose birth we commemorate that after death there is life. We can believe, and we do believe, that from the death of our national leader will come a rebirth of the finest qualities of our national life.

On this same occasion 30 years ago, at the close of another troubled year in our Nation’s history, a great President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, said to his countrymen, “To more and more of us the words ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’ have taken on a meaning that is showing itself and proving itself in our purposes and in our daily lives.”

I believe that this is no less true for all of us in all of our regions of our land today.

There is a turning away from things which are false and things which are small, and things which are shallow.

There is a turning toward those things which are true, those things which are profound, and those things which are eternal. We can, we do, live tonight in new hope and new confidence and new faith in ourselves and in what we can do together through the future.

Our need for such faith was never greater, for we are the heirs of a great trust. In these last 200 years we have guided the building of our Nation and our society by those principles and precepts brought to earth nearly 2,000 years ago on that first Christmas.

We have our faults and we have our failings, as any mortal society must. But when sorrow befell us, we learned anew how great is the trust and how close is the kinship that mankind feels for us, and most of all, that we feel for each other. We must remember, and we must never forget, that the hopes and the fears of all the years rest with us, as with no other people in all history. We shall keep that trust working, as always we have worked, for peace on earth and good will among men.

On this occasion a year ago, our beloved President John F. Kennedy reminded us that Christmas is the day when all of us dedicate our thoughts to others, when we are all reminded that mercy and compassion are the really enduring virtues, when all of us show, by small deeds and by large, that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

So in that spirit tonight, let me express to you as your President the one wish that I have as we gather here. It is a wish that we not lose the closeness and the sense of sharing, and the spirit of mercy and compassion which these last few days have brought for us all.

Between tonight and Christmas Eve, let each American family, whatever their station, whatever their religion, whatever their race or their region–let each American family devote time to sharing with others something of themselves; yes, something of their very own. Let us, if we can do no more, lend a hand and share an hour, and say a prayer–and find some way with which to make this Christmas a prouder memory for what we gave instead of what we receive.

And now here, as we have done so many years, we turn on, in your Capital City, the lights of our National Christmas Tree, and we say that we hope that the world will not narrow into a neighborhood before it has broadened into a brotherhood.

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President Lyndon B. Johnson with children at Christmas party. December 16, 1964 (Photo by Lyndon Baines Johnson Library)

Remarks at the Lighting of the Nation’s Christmas Tree.
December 18, 1964

Mr. Secretary of the Interior, Reverend Clergy, Vice President-elect Humphrey, ladies and gentlemen:

Once again, we come here to keep an old and cherished tradition–the lighting, here in Washington, of the Nation’s Christmas Tree.

For all of us–of all ages–the lights of Christmas symbolize each year the happiness of this wonderful season.

But this year I believe that the lights of Christmas symbolize more than the happiness of the moment. Their brightness expresses the hopefulness of the times in which we live.

These are the most hopeful times in all the years since Christ was born in Bethlehem.

Our world is still troubled. Man is still afflicted by many worries and many woes.

Yet today–as never before–man has in his possession the capacities to end war arid preserve peace, to eradicate poverty and share abundance, to overcome the diseases that have afflicted the human race and permit all mankind to enjoy their promise in life on this earth.

At this Christmas season of 1964, we can think of broader and brighter horizons than any who have lived before these times. For there is rising in the sky of the age a new star–the star of peace.

By his inventions, man has made war unthinkable, now and forevermore. Man must, therefore, apply the same initiative, the same inventiveness, the same determined effort to make peace on earth eternal and meaningful for all mankind.

For nearly 200 years of our existence as a nation, America has stood for peace in the world. At this Christmas season–when the world commemorates the birth of the Prince of Peace–I want all men, everywhere, to know that the people of this great Nation have but one hope, one ambition toward other peoples: that is to live at peace with them and for them to live at peace with one another.

Since the first Christmas, man has moved slowly but steadily forward toward realizing the promise of peace on earth among men of good will. That movement has been possible because there has been brought into the affairs of man a more generous spirit toward his fellow man.

Let us pray at this season that in all we do as individuals and as a nation, we may be motivated by that spirit of generosity and compassion which Christ taught us so long ago.

Now it is my great privilege to do as Presidents have done for 40 years–to press this button and light the Christmas tree for all the Nation. As I do so, may I take this opportunity to express to the distinguished Representatives, the Ambassadors of foreign countries, to our official family, to each home and each family in our glorious Nation the wishes of our family–Mrs. Johnson, Lynda, Luci, and myself–for a happy holiday season and years of peace and success to Come.

Thank you and God bless all of you.

Lady Bird Johnson and President Lyndon B. Johnson pose with Christmas tree, December 14, 1965. (Courtesy of Robert Knudsen, LBJ Presidential Library)
Lady Bird Johnson and President Lyndon B. Johnson pose with Christmas tree, December 14, 1965. (Courtesy of Robert Knudsen, LBJ Presidential Library)

Remarks at the Lighting of the Nation’s Christmas Tree.
December 17, 1965

Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Vice President, my fellow countrymen:
Once again it is Christmas.

Once again that time has come when the heart of man opens to the holiness of life.

Once again we tell the ancient story of a baby, born into poverty and persecution, whose destiny it was to lift the iron burden of despair from his fellow men.

In the 20 centuries that have transpired since the sacred moment of His birth, mankind has never been wholly free of the scourge of war and the ravages of disease, illiteracy, and hunger. Yet the star of Bethlehem burns in our hearts on this December evening with a warmth that is not diminished by the years or discouraged by our failures.

It reminds us that our first and most compelling task is peace.

As in other Christmas seasons in the past, our celebration this year is tempered by the absence of brave men from their homes and from their loved ones.

We would not have it so. We have not sought the combat in which they are engaged. We have hungered for not one foot of another’s territory, nor for the life of a single adversary. Our sons patrol the hills of Viet-Nam at this hour because we have learned that though men cry “Peace, peace,” there is no peace to be gained ever by yielding to aggression.

That lesson has been learned by a hundred generations. The guarantors of peace on earth have been those prepared to make sacrifices in its behalf.

On this platform with me this evening is the very distinguished and very great Prime Minister of Great Britain. He speaks for a people who have made such sacrifices in behalf of peace. On the battlefield and at the conference table, his countrymen have fought and have labored to create a just peace among the nations.

The distinguished Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, and I have spoken of this task this afternoon. We have spoken not only of the security of mankind, but of the countless opportunities for cooperation that are the true works of peace.

He has told me that his Government will renew the quest for peace as cochairman of the Geneva Conference. I have told him that any new way he can find to peace will have a ready response from the United States.

We know too that peace is not merely the absence of war. It is that climate in which man may be liberated from the hopelessness that imprisons his spirit.

In this strong and prosperous land, there are many that are still trapped in that prison where hope seems but a dream. We shall never rest until that dream becomes a reality.

But hope cannot be our province alone. For we shall never know peace in a world where a minority prospers and the vast majority is condemned to starvation and ignorance. This evening, inspired once more by Him who brought comfort and courage to the oppressed, we offer our hand to those who seek a new life for their people.

Above all things, we dedicate ourselves to the search for a just settlement of disputes between nations. We declare once more our desire to discuss an honorable peace in Viet-Nam. We know that nothing is to be gained by a further delay in talking. Our poet Emerson once said that “the god of victory is one-handed–but peace gives victory to both sides.”

So in the name of a people who seek peace for their brothers on this earth–“that we may be the children of our Father which is in heaven; for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust”–I turn on the lights of this tree, and pray that the Spirit that we revere this evening may illuminate the heart of every man on earth.

Lady Bird Johnson and President Lyndon B. Johnson pose in front of the Christmas tree, December 13, 1966. (Courtesy of Robert Knudsen, LBJ Presidential Library)
Lady Bird Johnson and President Lyndon B. Johnson pose in front of the Christmas tree, December 13, 1966. (Courtesy of Robert Knudsen, LBJ Presidential Library)

Remarks at the Lighting of the Nation’s Christmas Tree.
December 15, 1966

Mr. Vice President and Mrs. Humphrey, Secretary Udall, Commissioner Tobriner, reverend clergy, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, distinguished platform guests, ladies and gentlemen:

Tonight, with prayerful hope for the future, we have come here to light the Nation’s Christmas tree.

Exactly 175 years ago today America sent another light out into the world. That light–and that promise–was America’s Bill of Rights.

Few documents in all the history of freedom have ever so illuminated the paths of men.
Today, the light of that great charter guides us yet.

I know, as you know, that we face an uncertain future. Grave problems threaten us all. As your President, I struggle with these problems every waking moment of every day.

Here at home, in our own land, more than 20 million Negroes still yearn for the rights and the dignity that the rest of us take for granted.

Abroad, half of the world’s people struggle daily against hunger, disease, and poverty.

And tonight, even as we speak, American men are fighting in a strange land, a half a world away.

And yet, at this time of Christmas, there are signs of hope.

In the United States, we have made more progress in human rights in the past 6 years than we have made in all of the previous 100 years. And, if the goal of true equality is still far down the road, the barriers before that goal are falling every day.

Throughout the world old quarrels are being forgotten, and nation is joining nation in a common effort to try to improve the lot of man.

And finally, in Vietnam, the tide of battle has turned. No one can say just how long that war will last. But we can say that aggression has been blunted, and that peace, with honor, will surely follow.

The months ahead will not be easy ones. They will require great sacrifice, patience, understanding, and tolerance from each of us.

But let us here tonight dedicate this Christmas tree with hope and great confidence. And let us rededicate ourselves to the principles of our Bill of Rights “to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”


President Johnson, First Lady and their dog Yuki 1967
President Johnson, First Lady and their dog Yuki 1967

Remarks at the Lighting of the Nation’s Christmas Tree.
December 15, 1967

Secretary Udall, Governor Hoff, Mayor Washington, Mr. Dalton, reverend clergy, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

Yesterday, in the great State of California, a team of scientists announced that they had come closer than men had ever come before to creating life in a laboratory.

Yesterday, and today, men sat at missile sites and airfields throughout the world. They wore different uniforms and they spoke different languages. But they all controlled the power to destroy a human being, a human life, on an unprecedented scale.
Today a child was born in an American hospital. His chances of living a long life, of being well educated, of being gainfully employed, of enjoying the amenities of a good life, and of passing even wider opportunities on to his children, are greater than they have been for any child, born at any time, in any nation, in recorded history.

Today a young soldier, in the prime of his life, was killed in the central highlands of Vietnam. A life that might have been spent productively, in the works of peace, has now been swiftly cut off in the waste of war.

These expressions of man in our time–of the power to create life, and the power to destroy life, of the flowering of hope, and the renewal of tragedy–are in some ways very unique. But in other ways they are typical of the human condition in every age.

In a few days we shall all celebrate the birth of His Holiness on earth. We shall recreate in our minds, once more, the ancient coming of that Spirit who remains alive for millions in our time. We shall acknowledge the Kingdom of a Child in a world of men.

That Child–we should remember–grew into manhood Himself, preached and moved men in many walks of life, and died in agony.

But His death–so the Christian faith tells us–was not the end. For Him, and for millions of men and women ever since, it marked a time of triumph–when the spirit of life triumphed over death.

So–if this Christmas season in a time of war is to have real meaning to us, it must celebrate more than the birth of a Baby. It must celebrate the birth of a Spirit who endured scorn and hardship and the tragedy of an unjust death–and who yet speaks to us, across 20 centuries, of the promise of life.

Half a million American families will celebrate His birth this year without a beloved son or husband near them.

Half a million brave American men–who love their country and are willing to die for their land–will be celebrating Christmas in a strange land, surrounded by the weapons Of War.

A part of every American heart will be with them.

What sustains us–as we turn on the lights of this tree, and of millions of trees in millions of American homes–is the belief that the spirit of life will triumph over death. It is the conviction that peace will come, and will permit us to give our lives completely to building, instead of giving our lives to destroying.

It is the faith that says the creation of new hope for man, through scientific discovery, is finally much more important than great destructive power–that also came from science.

It is the hope that says a life of peace and promise is more likely for man than a life of war and misery.

This is the message of the holy season. May it–in an hour of trial–fill us with its deep, abiding joy.
Thank you and good evening.

The President’s Christmas Message to the Nation Upon Returning From His Round-the-World Trip.
December 24, 1967

My fellow Americans:

Not many hours ago I stood among some of your sons in Vietnam.

I had come back to Asia, 14 months after my last visit there, to say farewell to a friend–the late Prime Minister Harold Holt of Australia. I had joined with the leaders of Asia and the Commonwealth in ceremonies and meetings that spoke–not only of our personal loss–but of our common bonds.

The spirit of Harold Holt–the spirit of the New Asia–was powerfully alive among those who gathered to pay tribute to his memory.

I had traveled then to Thailand–to the air base at Khorat–and in the darkness before dawn yesterday morning, I spoke to our pilots and our ground crews–the brave and skillful airmen who are there helping to ease the enemy’s pressures on our soldiers and our marines in South Vietnam.

Now, on the airstrip at Cam Ranh Bay, in South Vietnam, your sons and I exchanged “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year.” I told them that I wished I could bring them something more–some part of the pride you feel in them, some tangible symbol of your love and concern for them.

But I knew that they could feel your pride. I knew that they were confident of your love. Their faces were smiling, and they had that enthusiasm, that brave generosity of spirit that the world associates with young Americans in uniform.

I decorated 20 of them for gallantry in action. Their faces seemed more grave than the others–preoccupied, I thought, with the savage experience of battle they had all endured.

And then in the hospital, I spoke with those who bore the wounds of war. You Cannot be in such a place, among such men, without feeling grief well up in your throat, without feeling grateful that there is such courage among your own countrymen.

That was Christmastime in Vietnam–a time of war, of suffering, of endurance, of bravery, and devotion to country.

A few hours later, only last night at 9 o’clock, I sat with His Holiness Pope Paul, in his Vatican study.

I had flown thousands of miles, for many hours, from Vietnam to Rome, so that I might receive the counsel of this good man-this friend of peace.

I wanted to tell him that the United States had been actively seeking an end to the war in Vietnam–that we had traveled dozens of roads in search of peace—but that thus far these had proved fruitless journeys.

I wanted to promise him–as I have promised you, my fellow Americans–that the disappointments we had known in the past would never deter us from again trying any reasonable route to negotiations.

These things I said to him last night, and then I listened as His Holiness told me of his eagerness to help bring peace to Vietnam. That is an eagerness that every American boy in uniform feels more than we do. We talked of what might be done to help the people of Vietnam become reconciled to one another in a nation at peace. I felt, once more, what all the world already knows: the human sympathy–the passion for peace-that fills the heart of the Pope.
I told His Holiness that America welcomed his efforts to bring an end to the strife and sorrow. And I told him of a matter that weighs on our hearts this Christmas, and every day of the year: the treatment of American prisoners of war in North Vietnam.

I told him how we hoped he would intercede on their behalf, trying to gain for them more humane living conditions and seeking for them the elemental right to communicate with their loved ones. I assured him that his representatives would be welcomed wherever prisoners were held in South Vietnam.

That was Christmastime in Rome–a time of quiet, of understanding, of communication without any barrier.

Now that the holy day itself has come, I wish each of you a full measure of happiness. I hope that all of you may remember, this Christmas, the brave young men who celebrate the holy season far from their homes, some in trailers, some in rice paddies and foxholes, but all of them serving their country–serving their loved ones-serving each of us.

I hope, too, that your hearts may be filled with peace within, as your country so earnestly seeks peace in the world.

Our country has known many wartime Christmases. It may seem difficult, at such times, to even say “Merry Christmas.” But when you think of the bravery of the human spirit, and the compassion of the human heart, and the power of life to triumph over pain and darkness, you are properly thankful. Your own spirits are lifted higher; and you say it–and mean it–as I do now. Merry Christmas.

The First Family - a Johnson Christmas in The White House - 1968 - L to R - Luci Baines, Lady Byrd, Prez Johnson, Lynda Byrd
The First Family – a Johnson Christmas in The White House – 1968 – L to R – Luci Baines, Lady Byrd, Prez Johnson, Lynda Byrd

Remarks at the Lighting of the Nation’s Christmas Tree.
December 16, 1968

Cardinal O’Boyle, Secretary Udall, Mr. Carr, Mr. Dalton, Senator Moss, Mayor Washington, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

For the sixth–and last–time, I have come to light this Christmas tree in the Nation’s Capital.

My prayer now, as it has been in each of these other Decembers, is for peace and reconciliation abroad, justice and tranquillity at home.

This prayer is not easily answered in the world in which we live. During the past 5 years, we have had to act with other nations to preserve the possibility of freedom for those threatened by totalitarian power-to preserve the dream in Asia and Latin America and elsewhere of how men might work, in cooperation with their neighbors, to lift the great burdens of poverty, ignorance, hunger, and disease.

Our next President will also face many difficult challenges in international affairs. He deserves the support of all of us in helping him to meet those challenges. I hope, and I believe, that what America has done in the past few years will strengthen his ability to meet his responsibilities to America and to the world.

For, here at home, too, we have had to preserve a dream; to work day and night to close the gap between promise and reality, so that all would have equal opportunity to fulfill the talents that God granted them; and to do so in an environment which protected the rights of all, including the right to expect that the law will be obeyed by everyone among us.

We cannot say that we have triumphed in this endeavor. But we have begun–at long last.

Problems remain for the new President and the new administration. But I sense that there is coming now in our land an understanding of how much can be done if we will only, all of us, work together, and how much can be lost if men look to violence and confrontation as the answer to frustration and injustice.

At this moment of Christmas, we Americans join our prayers with all our human brothers, in a spirit of hope. We pray for an early and durable settlement of the war that has called many brave young men to duty far from our shores and who cannot be in their homes this Christmas. In the hour of the Prince of Peace, we pray for them, for ourselves, and for all our fellows on this earth.

I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a full New Year of both peace and happiness.


Presidential Christmas Messages

Presidential Christmas Messages 4




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