Christmas in Early America: the Pilgrims and Puritans of New England found no Biblical precedent for a public celebration of Christmas (recall that the goal of these groups was to simplify religious worship and to cut away all religious rituals and celebrations not specifically cited in the Bible); nothing in the Bible established any date for the birth of Christ; the holiday was instead established by Roman tradition, thus making it – in their view – one of the many “pagan” holidays that had been inculcated into the corrupt church that had persecuted them, and which they and other religious leaders wished to reform. Consequently, Christmas in New England remained a regular working day. In fact, Massachusetts passed an anti-Christmas law in 1659 declaring: “Whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas . . . shall pay for each offense five shillings as a fine to the country.” The law was repealed in 1681, but the holiday still was not celebrated by religious non-conformists or dissenters (i.e., the Puritans and Pilgrims); it usually was celebrated only by a few Anglicans (later Episcopalians), Catholics, and other more formal or high-church-tradition New England families. It was not until the 1830s and 1840s that Christmas celebrations were just beginning to be accepted in New England (primarily due to the influence of large-scale Christmas celebrations in cities such as New York) – although as late as 1870 in Boston public schools, a student missing school on Christmas Day could be punished or expelled. By the 1880s, however, Christmas celebrations had finally become as accepted in New England as they were in other parts of the country. 2
White House Tree History Christmas Tree Trivia:
- In 1889, the tradition of a placing an indoor decorated tree in the White House began on Christmas morning during the Presidency of Benjamin Harrison.
- In 1895, First Lady Frances Cleveland created a “technology savvy” tree when she hung electric lights on the White House tree (electricity was introduced into the White House in 1891).
- 1901-1909, Teddy Roosevelt banned the Christmas tree from the White House for environmental reasons.
- In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony now held every year on the White House lawn.
- In 1929, First Lady Lou Henry Hoover established the custom of decorating an official (and not just a personal) tree in the White House – a tradition that has remained with the First Ladies.
- In 1953, the Eisenhowers sought out Hallmark Cards to assist them in creating a presidential Christmas card – the beginning of the official White House Christmas card.
- In 1954, the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony is named the Pageant of Peace. It is held each year in early December to light the National Christmas Tree and includes performances by popular entertainers before the lighting of the National Christmas Tree by the President. The National Christmas Tree remains lit through January 1.
- In 1961, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of Christmas Tree themes when she decorated the Christmas tree in toy trimmings from the Nutcracker Suite ballet by Tchaikovsky.
- In 1963, the first Christmas card to include an explicitly religious element was the Kennedy card featuring a photo of a Nativity Scene set up in the East Room of the White House. Jack and Jacqueline had signed 30 cards before their final trip to Dallas. None was ever mailed. The National Christmas Tree that year was not lit until December 22nd because of a national 30-day period of mourning following President Kennedy’s assassination.
- In 1969, the Pageant of Peace was embroiled in legal controversy over the use of religious symbols, and in 1973, the nativity scene that had always been part of the pageant was no longer allowed.
- In 1979, the National Christmas Tree was not lighted except for the top ornament. This was done in honor of the American hostages in Iran….
- In 1981, President Ronald Reagan authorized the first official White House ornament, copies of which were made available for purchase.
- In 1981, Barbara Bush took the first of twelve rides in a cherry-picker to hang the star at the top of the National Christmas Tree.
- In 1984, the Nativity Scene was allowed to return to the Pageant of Peace, and when the National Christmas Tree was lit on December 13th, temperatures were in the 70s, making it one of the warmest tree lightings in history.
- In 2001, the first White House Christmas card to contain a Scripture was chosen by Laura Bush. Quoting from Psalm 27, it said “Thy face, Lord, do I seek. I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living,” which is what Laura Bush believed would happen after the tragedy of September 11. She chose that Scripture on September 16 (only 5 days after 9/11) based on a sermon the chaplain had preached at Camp David. The Bushes regularly used Scriptures on their Christmas cards.
George & Martha Washington (1789-1797)
At a time when Christmas was still quite controversial in a new nation, Martha Washington’s holiday receptions were stiff and regal affairs, quite befitting the dignity of the office of President of the United States and invitations were much desired by the local gentry. A Christmas party was given by the Washington’s for members of Congress on Christmas Day, 1795, at which a bountiful feast was served to the guests – all men with the exception of the First Lady!
The festivities at the Mount Vernon plantation in Virginia would start at daybreak with a Christmas fox hunt. It was followed by a hearty mid-day feast that included “Christmas pie,” dancing, music, and visiting that sometimes did not end for a solid week.
Andrew & Rachel Jackson (1829-1837)
From the earliest times memorable parties have been held for the president’s children or grand-children. One of the most elaborate was President Andrew Jackson’s “frolic” for the children of his household in 1834. This party included games, dancing, a grand dinner, and ended with an indoor “snowball fight” with specially made cotton balls.
Abraham & Mary Todd Lincoln (1861-1865)
During the first Christmas of the war (1861), Mrs. Lincoln arranged flowers, read books, helped serve meals, talked with the staff, and cared for the wounded at Campbell’s and Douglas hospitals. She personally raised a thousand dollars for Christmas dinners and donated a similar amount for oranges and lemons when she heard that there was a threat of scurvy.
During the Christmas season of 1863, the Lincolns’ son, Tad, had accompanied his father on hospital visits and noticed the loneliness of the wounded soldiers. Deeply moved, the boy asked his father if he could send books and clothing to these men. The President agreed and packages signed “From Tad Lincoln” were sent to area hospitals that Christmas.
One Christmas Tad Lincoln befriended the turkey that was to become Christmas dinner. He interrupted a cabinet meeting to plead with his father to spare the bird. The President obliged by writing a formal pardon for the turkey named Jack.
Benjamin & Caroline Harrison (1889-1893)
In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison, his grandchildren, and extended family gathered around the first indoor White House Christmas tree.
Grover & Francis Cleveland (1885-1889; 1893-1897)
When Grover Cleveland first became President in 1885, there was no Christmas tree during the first Cleveland administration, but when daughters Ruth, Esther, and Marion were born, this changed in the second administration. In 1894, three years after electricity was introduced in the White House, the first electric lights on a family tree delighted the young daughters of President Grover Cleveland.
Mrs. Cleveland’s main Christmas activity, rather than entertaining and decorating, was her work with the Christmas Club of Washington to provide food, clothing, and toys to poor children in the D.C. area. She took the time to wrap and distribute gifts to the children and sat with them for a Punch and Judy show. Although Christmas Club charities in Washington date back to the 1820’s, no previous first lady had taken as prominent a role in these activities as Frances Cleveland, who helped set a tradition of good works carried on by many other First Ladies.
Theodore & Edith Roosevelt (1901-1909)
President Theodore Roosevelt, an avowed conservationist, did not approve of cutting trees for Christmas decorations. However, his son Archie smuggled in a small tree that was decorated and hidden in a closet in the upstairs sewing room.
The Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt family Christmas traditions were quite simple. On Christmas Eve, they would pile into the family sleigh (later the motor car) and travel to Christ Church in Oyster Bay, New York. Following the pastor’s sermon, TR would deliver one of his famous “sermonettes” on the meaning of the holiday. The service would close with one of his favorite hymns “Christmas By the Sea.” On Christmas morning, gifts would be opened and then the family would spend the day hiking, playing games, and going for sleigh rides.
For many years TR played Santa Claus at a school in Oyster Bay, New York, listening to the children and then giving them Christmas presents that he had selected himself.
Calvin & Grace Coolidge (1923-1929)
In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge touches a button and lights up the first national Christmas tree to grace the White House grounds. (Until 1923, holiday celebrations were local in nature.) It was the first to be decorated with electric lights – a strand of 2,500 red, white and green bulbs. While radio station WCAP broadcast the event to possibly a million Americans, the President gave no speech. The evening centered, instead, on Christmas carols and other festive music performed at the tree-lighting ceremony, including by the Epiphany Church choir and the U.S. Marine Band. Later that evening, President Coolidge and first lady Grace were treated to carols sung by members of Washington D.C.’s First Congregational Church.
That year, the erection of a National Christmas Tree was the first of several holiday practices instituted during the Coolidge Presidency that are still with us today. It was 1927 when President Coolidge issued a holiday message to the nation – and then only a brief one written by his own hand on White House stationery. Its text was carried in newspapers across the land on Christmas Day. Finally, in 1928, on his last Christmas Eve in office, the President delivered to the nation via radio the first tree-lighting speech. It was 49 words in length.
Herbert & Lou Hoover (1929-1933)
First Lady Lou Henry Hoover established the custom of decorating an official (and not just a personal) tree in the White House in 1929. Since that time, the honor of trimming a principal White House Christmas tree on the state floor has belonged to our first ladies.
Christmas 1929 was memorable for the Hoovers because an electrical fire broke out in the West Wing of the White House during a children’s party. The Oval Office was gutted, but Mrs. Hoover kept the party going. The Marine Band, meanwhile, played Christmas carols at a volume calculated to drown out the sound of the arriving fire engines.
The following year the same children were invited back for another party at which time each child was given a toy fire engine as a memento. The invitations to the 1930 party read as follows: “This is not like the Christmas parties you usually go to…for Santa Claus has sent word that he is not going to be able, by himself, to take care of all the little girls and boys he wants to this year, and he has asked other people to help him as much as possible. So if you bring some presents with you, we will send them all to him to distribute.” The party was an enormous success.
Hoover, December 25th, 1931
Your annual Christmas service . . . is a dramatic and inspiring event of national interest. It symbolizes and vivifies our greatest Christian festival with its eternal message of unselfishness, joy, and peace. 3
Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt (1933-1945)
Eleanor initiated Christmas planning each year. Her gift giving list included over 200 names. She began buying gifts in January and regularly put things away in her special “Christmas Closet.” Throughout the year she added new items – gifts for family, friends, and almost everyone on the White House Staff. Each October, she would take over a storage room on the third floor of the White House to wrap the gifts. On Christmas, Franklin would be so interested in the gifts for others that it might be three or four days after Christmas before he was persuaded to open his own.
For the President, Christmas was a time for family and close friends. The tree was set up on Christmas Eve and the President directed his grandchildren in the placement of every ornament. After the tree was decorated, FDR had the grandchildren gather around while he read Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” or recited it from memory. Following the reading, the children would race upstairs to the President’s bedroom where they would hang their stockings on his mantel.
FDR, December 24th, 1935
Around the Manger of the Babe of Bethlehem “all Nations and kindreds and tongues” [Revelation 7:9] find unity. . . . The spirit of Christmas breathes an eternal message of peace and good-will to all men. We pause, therefore, on this Holy Night and . . . 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.” 4
FDR, December 24th, 1939
In the happiness of this Eve of the most blessed day in the year, I give to all of my countrymen the old, old greeting – “Merry Christmas – Happy Christmas.” . . . Let us rather pray that we may be given strength to live for others – to live more closely to the words of the Sermon on the Mount and to pray that peoples in the nations which are at war may also read, learn and inwardly digest these deathless words. May their import reach into the hearts of all men and of all nations. I offer them as my Christmas message:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 5
FDR, December 24th, 1941 (Following Pearl Harbor)
There are many men and women in America – sincere and faithful men and women – who are asking themselves this Christmas. . . . How can we meet and worship with love and with uplifted spirit and heart in a world at war, a world of fighting and suffering and death? . . . How can we put the world aside . . . to rejoice in the birth of Christ? . . . And even as we ask these questions, we know the answer. There is another preparation demanded of this Nation beyond and beside the preparation of weapons and materials of war. There is demanded also of us the preparation of our hearts – the arming of our hearts. And when we make ready our hearts for the labor and the suffering and the ultimate victory which lie ahead, then we observe Christmas Day – with all of its memories and all of its meanings – as we should. Looking into the days to come, I have set aside a day of prayer. 6
FDR, December 24th, 1944 (Following D-Day)
Here, at home, we will celebrate this Christmas Day in our traditional American way – because of its deep spiritual meaning to us; because the teachings of Christ are fundamental in our lives; and because we want our youngest generation to grow up knowing the significance of this tradition and the story of the coming of the immortal Prince of Peace and Good Will. [He then led in a prayer for the troops] We pray that with victory will come a new day of peace on earth in which all the Nations of the earth will join together for all time. That is the spirit of Christmas, the holy day. May that spirit live and grow throughout the world in all the years to come. 7
Harry & Bess Truman (1945-1953)
It became a tradition for the First Family to go home to Independence, Missouri, for Christmas. The Chief Executive, however, always remained in Washington until after the staff party on Christmas Eve.
Truman, December 24th, 1945
This is the Christmas that a war-weary world has prayed for through long and awful years. . . . 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 Savior brought a time of long peace to the Roman World. . . . 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.” . . . Would that the world would accept that message in this time of its greatest need! . . . 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. 8
Truman, December 24th, 1949
Since returning home, I have been reading again in our family Bible some of the passages which foretold this night. . . . 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. 9
Truman, December 24th, 1950 (During the Korean War)
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. . . . 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 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. . . . 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. . . . Let us pray at this Christmastime for the wisdom, the humility, and the courage to carry on in this faith. 10
Truman, December 24th, 1952
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. 11
Dwight & Mamie Eisenhower (1953-1961)
Unlike other Presidents who distinguished political from household staff, the Eisenhowers brought both together (more than 500 in all) for a Christmas party each year. For the White House staff, Mamie purchased gifts in area department stores, personally wrapping each one to save money.
President Eisenhower took a personal interest in the gifts and cards that were sent from the White House. Ike was an artist in his own right and allowed six of his own paintings to be used as Christmas gifts and cards during his administration. In eight years, Hallmark produced a prodigious 38 different Christmas cards and gift prints for the President and First Lady. No previous administration, nor any since Eisenhower’s, has sent such a variety of holiday greetings from the White House.
For the Christmas of 1958, Mamie pulled out all the stops in decorating the White House. She had 27 decorated trees, carols were piped into every room and greenery was wrapped around every column.
John & Jacqueline Kennedy (1961-1963)
In 1961, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of selecting a theme for the official White House Christmas tree. She decorated a tree placed in the oval Blue Room with ornamental toys, birds and angels modeled after Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite.
The first card to contain an explicitly religious element was in 1963, which featured a photo of a crèche set up in the East Room of the White House. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, had signed 30 cards before their final trip to Dallas where he was assassinated. None of these cards were ever mailed.
Lyndon & Ladybird Johnson (1963-1969)
Lyndon and Ladybird Johnson spent four of their six presidential Christmases in Texas rather than Washington. The Christmas of 1967 (the 7th) was special for the Johnsons because their daughter, Lynda, was married to Charles Robb in the White House on December 9th with 650 guests in attendance. The celebrating continued during Christmas and they spent that Christmas in Washington, the first in seven years.
The Johnsons final Christmas in the White House in 1968 was a time of reflection for them and the opportunity to say goodbye to their friends. On December 23rd, President Johnson sent Christmas greetings to the American troops in Southeast Asia, which included his two sons-in-law.
The First Lady committed herself to the beautification of America and the planting of trees. Except for their unplanned first Christmas in the Executive Mansion, all the cards and gift prints of later years were to feature trees.
LBJ, December 22nd, 1963
We were taught by Him whose birth we commemorate that after death there is life. . . . 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. 12
LBJ, December 15th, 1967
In a few days we shall all celebrate the birth of His Holiness on earth. . . . 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. 13
Richard & Pat Nixon (1969-1974)
The Vietnam War was going strong when the Nixons entered the White House in 1969. Pat Nixon personally supervised an elaborate plan for decorating the White House. For the first time in a quarter century, wreaths were hung in every window. In the Great Hall stood a 19-foot fir tree with ornaments that featured the flowers of the fifty states. In response to the National Christmas Tree, war protestors set up their own tree and decorated it with soda pop cans and tin foil peace symbols.
Christmas celebrations during the following years were often filled with controversy and difficulty. In 1969, the Pageant of Peace was embroiled in legal controversy over the use of religious symbols, and in 1973, the nativity scene that had always been part of the pageant was no longer allowed.
Gerald & Betty Ford (1974-1977)
In 1975, to honor America’s upcoming bicentennial celebration, the National Christmas Tree was decorated with 4,600 red, white, and blue ornaments and 12,000 lights. On the top of the 45-foot blue spruce sat a 4-foot gold and green replica of the Liberty Bell. There were also 13 smaller trees representing the 13 colonies and 44 other trees placed in a row representing states and territories.
Ford, December 18th, 1975
As we gather here before our Nation’s Christmas tree, symbolic of the communion of Americans at Christmastime, we remind ourselves of the eternal truths by which we live. . . . In our 200 years, we Americans have always honored the spiritual testament of 2,000 years ago. We embrace the spirit of the Prince of Peace so that we might find peace in our own hearts and in our own land, and hopefully in the world as well. 14
Jimmy & Rosayln Carter (1977-1981)
One of the most interesting and controversial aspects of the Carters Presidential Christmases concerned greeting cards. In 1977, the Carters ordered and sent 60,000 Christmas cards, substantially more than any previous administration. In 1978, the number jumped to 100,000 and in 1979 when there were 105,000, President Carter finally established a White House committee to look into the problem of too many Christmas cards!
The hostage crisis in Iran dominated the holiday celebrations of 1979 and 1980. In 1979, the National Christmas Tree and fifty surrounding trees each showed a single light, one for each of the hostages. The President promised to turn on the other lights when the hostages were freed. Because the hostages were still in captivity, the following year the lights on the tree were turned on for 417 seconds on Christmas Eve – one second for each day they had been held.
Carter, December 15th, 1977
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. 15
Carter, December 18th, 1980
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. 16
Ronald & Nancy Reagan (1981-1989)
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan began another custom by authorizing the first official White House ornament, copies of which were made available for purchase.
In 1984, the Nativity Scene was allowed to return to the Pageant of Peace.
Christmas in Illinois, where both Ronald and Nancy Reagan grew up, was a sharp contrast to their Christmases in Washington. The President has recalled that his family never had a really fancy Christmas. During the Depression, when they couldn’t afford a Christmas tree, his mother would decorate a table or make a cardboard fireplace out of a packing box.
Reagan, December 23rd, 1981 (click here to listen to this)
At this special time of year, we all renew our sense of wonder in recalling the story of the first Christmas in Bethlehem, nearly 2,000 year ago. Some celebrate Christmas as the birthday of a great and good philosopher and teacher. Others of us believe in the Divinity of the child born in Bethlehem, that He was and is the promised Prince of Peace. . . . Tonight, in millions of American homes, the glow of the Christmas tree is a reflection of the love Jesus taught us. . . . Christmas means so much because of one special child. 17
Reagan, December 16th, 1982
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. 18
Reagan, December 15th, 1983
Many stories have been written about Christmas. Charles Dickens’ “Carol” is probably the most famous. Well, I’d like to read some lines from a favorite of mine called, “One Solitary Life,” which describes for me the meaning of Christmas. [He then read the full story.] . . . I have always believed that the message of Jesus is one of hope and joy. I know there are those who recognize Christmas Day as the birthday of a great and good man, a wise teacher who gave us principles to live by. And then there are others of us who believe that He was the Son of God, that He was Divine. If we live our lives for truth, for love, and for God, we never need be afraid. 19
Reagan, December 12th, 1985
We do not know the exact moment the Christ Child was born, only what we would have seen if we’d been standing there as we stand here now: Suddenly, a star from heaven shining in our eyes, shining with brilliant beauty across the skies, a star pointing toward eternity in the night, like a great ring of pure and endless light, and then all was calm, and all was bright. Such was the beginning of one solitary life that would shake the world as never before or since. When we speak of Jesus and of His life, we speak of a man revered as a prophet and teacher by people of all religions, and Christians speak of someone greater – a man Who was and is Divine. He brought forth a power that is infinite and a promise that is eternal, a power greater than all mankind’s military might, for His power is Godly love, love that can lift our hearts and soothe our sorrows and heal our wounds and drive away our fears. . . . If each of us could give but a fraction to one another of what He gave to the whole human family, how many hearts could heal, how much sorrow and pain could be driven away. 20
George & Barbara Bush (1989-1993)
Mrs. Bush took particular pleasure in hosting a special party for homeless children from the Central Union Mission in Washington, DC. She distributed special Christmas bags filled with gifts and then read them Christmas stories. She sometimes would tell the stories in her own words, giving it her own personal touch.
The First Lady added her own special touches to the holiday with her annual cherry picker ride to hang the star at the top of the National Christmas Tree, a trip she took 12 times beginning in the Reagan Administration as the wife of the Vice President.
Bush, December 18th, 1989
During the beautiful and holy season of Christmas, our hearts are filled with the same wonder, gratitude, and joy that led the psalmist of old to ask, “When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained, What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that Thou visitest him?” At Christmas, we, too, rejoice in the mystery of God’s love for us – love revealed through the gift of Christ’s birth. Born into a family of a young carpenter and his wife, in a stable shared by beasts of the field, our Savior came to live among ordinary men. Yet, in time, the miraculous nature of this simple event became clear. Christ’s birth changed the course of history, bringing the light of hope to a world dwelling in the darkness of sin and death. Today, nearly 2,000 years later, the shining promise of that first Christmas continues to give our lives a sense of peace and purpose. Our words and deeds, when guided by the example of Christ’s life, can help others share in the joy of man’s Redemption. 21
Bill & Hillary Clinton (1993-2001)
Clinton, December 22nd, 1997
The beloved Christmas story itself is a story of light, for, as the Gospel of John tells us, Jesus came into the world as “the true Light” [John 1:9] that illumines all humankind. Almost 2,000 years later, that Light still shines amid the dark places of our world. 22
Clinton, December 21st, 1999
Saint Matthew’s Gospel tells us that on the first Christmas 2000 years ago, a bright star shone vividly in the eastern sky, heralding the birth of Jesus and the beginning of His hallowed mission as teacher, healer, servant, and savior. . . . His luminous teachings have brought hope and joy to generations of believers. . . . His timeless message of God’s enduring and unconditional love for each and every person continues to strengthen and inspire us. . . . Love, peace, joy, hope – so many beautiful words are woven through our Christmas songs and prayers and traditions. 23
George & Laura Bush (2001-2009)
George W. Bush is the first president to choose a Yule card with a Scripture. First lady Laura Bush supervises the card selection. She picked cards with Bible verses when her husband was governor and has continued to do so in the White House.
In 2001 George and Laura incorporated a scripture depicting their faith in post 9/11 times. It said “Thy face, Lord do I seek. I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living.” Psalm 27. Laura Bush believed that this is what really happened after the tragedy of September 11.
In 2004 George and Laura sent holiday cards with a Bible verse from Psalms (95:2): “Let us come before him with Thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.”
Bush, December 6th, 2001
Now once again, we celebrate Christmas in a time of testing, with American troops far from home. . . . It is worth recalling the words from a beautiful Christmas hymn. In the third verse of “Oh Holy Night” we sing, “His law is love, and His gospel is peace. Chains ye shall break, for the slave is our brother. And in His name all oppression shall cease. . . . We fight so that oppression may cease, and even in the midst of war, we pray for peace on Earth and good will to men. 24
Bush, December 4th, 2003
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. . . . 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. . . . 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.”‘ 25
1. Much of the general information in this piece concerning the Christmas practices of the presidents is directly excerpted from the primary sources: “Background Info: Christmas at the White House,” White House Historical Association (at: http://www.whitehousehistory.org/whha_press/press_archives/whha_info-whchristmas.pdf), “Christmas at the White House,” Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum (at: http://hoover.archives.gov/exhibits/WHChristmas/index.html); and from the White House (at: http://www.whitehousechristmas.com/WHC/default.ASPX). The direct presidential quotes related to Christmas are each individually footnoted.
3.Herbert Hoover, “Message to the Nation’s Christmas Trees Association,” The American Presidency Project, December 25, 1931, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=22957).
4. Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Christmas Greeting to the Nation,” The American Presidency Project, December 24, 1935, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15005).
5. Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Radio Christmas Greeting to the Nation,” The American Presidency Project, December 24, 1939, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15854).
6. Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Christmas Eve Message to the Nation,” The American Presidency Project, December 24, 1941, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=16073).
7. Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Address to the Nation,” The American Presidency Project, December 24, 1944, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=16485).
8. Harry S. Truman, “Address at the Lighting of the National Community Christmas Tree on the White House Grounds,” The American Presidency Project, December 24, 1945, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=12250).
9. Harry S. Truman, “Address in Connection With Lighting of the National Community Christmas Tree on the White House Grounds,” The American Presidency Project, December 24, 1949, Harry S. Truman’s Christmas Eve Broadcast, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=13373).
10. Harry S. Truman, “Address Recorded for Broadcast on the Occasion of the Lighting of the National Community Christmas Tree on the White House Grounds,” The American Presidency Project, December 24, 1950, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=13698).
11. Harry S. Truman, “Remarks Upon Lighting the National Community Christmas Tree,” The American Presidency Project, December 24, 1952, Harry S. Truman’s Christmas Eve Broadcast, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=14368).
12. Lyndon B. Johnson, “Remarks at the Lighting of the Nation’s Christmas Tree,” The American Presidency Project, December 22, 1963, Lyndon B. Johnson’s Christmas Eve Radio and T.V. Broadcast, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=26587).
13. Lyndon B. Johnson, “Remarks at the Lighting of the Nation’s Christmas Tree,” The American Presidency Project, December 15, 1967, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=28610).
14. Gerald R. Ford, “Remarks at the Lighting of the National Community Christmas Tree,” The American Presidency Project, December 18, 1975, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=5445).
15. Jimmy Carter, “Christmas Pageant of Peace Remarks on Lighting the National Community Christmas Tree,” The American Presidency Project, December 15, 1977, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=7019).
16.Jimmy Carter, “Christmas Pageant of Peace Remarks on Lighting the National Community Christmas Tree,” The American Presidency Project, December 18, 1980, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=44421).
17. Ronald Reagan, “Address to the Nation About Christmas and the Situation in Poland,” The American Presidency Project, December 23, 1981, Reagan’s Christmas Address from the Oval Office, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=43384).
18. Ronald Reagan, “Remarks on Lighting the National Community Christmas Tree,” The American Presidency Project, December 16, 1982, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=42123).
19. Ronald Reagan, “Remarks on Lighting the National Community Christmas Tree,” The American Presidency Project, December 15, 1983, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=40873).
20. Ronald Reagan, “Remarks on Lighting the National Christmas Tree,” The American Presidency Project, December 12, 1985, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=38161).
21. George H. Bush, “Message on the Observance of Christmas,” The American Presidency Project, December 18. 1989, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=17953).
22. William J. Clinton, “Message on the Observance of Christmas,” The American Presidency Project, December 22, 1997, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=53733).
23. William J. Clinton, “Message on the Observance of Christmas,” The American Presidency Project, December 21, 1999, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=57106).
24. George W. Bush, “Remarks on Lighting the National Christmas Tree,” The American Presidency Project, December 6, 2001, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=73502).
25. George W. Bush, “Remarks on Lighting the National Christmas Tree,” The American Presidency Project, December 4, 2003, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=63610).
* Originally published: Dec. 29, 2016.