Ronald Reagan’s Christmas Messages

“In this day, when our freedom to worship is most precious, let us redouble our efforts to bring this and other greatest freedoms to all the peoples of the Earth.” (1988)

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by Scott L. Vanatter

Ronald Reagan believed in Americans. He believed in the promise of America, that Americans possessed the inherent and acquired power to rise to the occasion. This, because of the overt and unique design of the Founders to foster freedom and responsibility. Reagan was optimistic about America’s future. He believed that when freedom flourishes, responsibility and accomplishment would naturally follow. (Sometimes to the astonishment and even delight of our greatest skeptics.) Others assume the opposite; they believe that force or coercion is necessary to accomplish their ends.

Reagan also believed in the spirit of Christmas. This unique season — filled with wonder, lights, music and children’s faces and hearts — lifts our hearts and fosters the better angels of our nature. He believed in its symbolic power to help us see and reach into the core of what it means to be an American. Both for believers and non-believers in the Babe born in Bethlehem.

He acknowledged those who only saw “Christmas Day, as the birthday of a great teacher and philosopher.” At the same time he also affirmed, “To others of us, he is more than that; he is also divine.” Bringing non-believers and believers together, Reagan said that we could agree that “To all of us, he taught us the way that we could have peace on Earth and good will to men . . . if we would do unto others as we would have others do unto us.” He was sure to make special mention of the “Menorah, symbolizing the Jewish festival of Hanukkah,” one of the “two great emblems of the holiday season.”

On Freedom

Most years he gave two Christmas addresses, the Lighting of the National Christmas Tree and also an annual Christmas Message. Twice he added an extra address. In 1981 he spoke at length of the tenuous political situation in Poland, bracketing these pointed remarks with a poignant Christmas message.

“The world is full of peril, as well as promise. Too many of its people, even now, live in the shadow of want and tyranny. As I speak to you tonight, the fate of a proud and ancient nation hangs in the balance. For a thousand years, Christmas has been celebrated in Poland, a land of deep religious faith, but this Christmas brings little joy to the courageous Polish people. They have been betrayed by their own government.”

Another year he added a separate special message to Orthodox Christians who, even and especially in the Soviet Union, celebrate Christmas in early January. He decried the “bitter fruit” of Communism which results from the “thirst for power and domination.” That America stands with “believers in the Soviet Union” who yearn for their “God-given rights.” (1985)

More than once he decried the lack of basic freedoms. “Yes, let us remember all those who are persecuted inside the Soviet bloc—not because they commit a crime, but because they love God in their hearts and want the freedom to celebrate Hanukkah or worship the Christ Child.” (1983)

Always he taught the unique and necessary connection between “the twin beacons of faith and freedom.” Both faith and freedom need attention and care. “Like the National Christmas Tree, our country is a living, growing thing planted in rich American soil. Only our devoted care can bring it to full flower. So, let this holiday season be for us a time of rededication.” (1981)

“The lighting of the National Christmas Tree with its Star of Peace atop could not come at a more symbolic moment. Two hours ago, General Secretary Gorbachev’s plane touched down on American soil. . . . I hope the General Secretary is watching this on TV. I’d like him to see what we’re celebrating, because for us, Christmas celebrates the cause of peace on Earth, good will toward men.” (1987)

On the Founders

From the sacrifices of the Founders of 1776 who struggled to secure our freedom to “lonely campfire vigils along the frontier, in the darkest days of the Great Depression, through war and peace, the twin beacons of faith and freedom have brightened the American sky.” (1981)

“Christmas is also a time to remember the treasures of our own history. We remember one Christmas in particular, 1776, our first year as a nation. The Revolutionary War had been going badly. But George Washington’s faith, courage, and leadership would turn the tide of history our way. On Christmas night he led a band of ragged soldiers across the Delaware River through driving snow to a victory that saved the cause of independence. It’s said that their route of march was stained by bloody footprints, but their spirit never faltered and their will could not be crushed. The image of George Washington kneeling in prayer in the snow is one of the most famous in American history. He personified a people who knew it was not enough to depend on their own courage and goodness; they must also seek help from God, their Father and Preserver.” (1983)

“For the past few years in this great house, I’ve thought of our first real Christmas as a nation. It was the dark and freezing Christmas of 1776, when General Washington and his troops crossed the Delaware. They and Providence gave our nation its first Christmas gift—a victory that brought us closer to liberty, the condition in which God meant man to flourish.” (1984)

On Christmas

Reagan reveled in the spirit of Christmas, from the music and colors to the real world care and keeping of our friends and neighbors.

“On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Christ with prayer, feasting, and great merriment. But, most of all, we experience it in our hearts. For, more than just a day, Christmas is a state of mind. It is found throughout the year whenever faith overcomes doubt, hope conquers despair, and love triumphs over hate. It is present when men of any creed bring love and understanding to the hearts of their fellow man. . . . And it is reflected in the brilliant colors, joyful sounds, and beauty of the winter season.” (1981)

“I guess we all have our own favorite Christmas memories, for this is the time of year when most of us try to be better than our everyday selves.” (1984)

“More than any gift or toy, ornament or tree, let us resolve that this Christmas shall be, like that first Christmas, a celebration of interior treasures. And let us resolve to share our many blessings with others now and in the year to come—from the hungry or the helpless near at hand to those in trouble or turmoil in distant lands from Africa to Asia and beyond.” (1984)

“Tonight we’re drawn in warmth to one another as we reflect upon the deeply holy meaning of the miracle we shall soon celebrate. We know that Mary and Joseph reached the stable in Bethlehem sometime after sunset. 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.” (1985)

“Preparations are made in homes and churches and shops in every city and town, and the land is full of traditional signs and symbols of its coming: Fresh snow resting lightly on the holly bush, package-laden crowds crushing the storefronts and bus stops, strings of lights gleaming from the housetops, chestnut vendors and street corner Santas, school plays with children dressed—hardly needing the costume—as angels, and choirs joining heart and voice in joyous song. Because of these traditions, no Christmas celebration truly stands alone. For most of us, the holidays bring back such a trove of memories, evoked by things as simple as the scent of pine or the painted scene on a greeting card, that our Christmases become not separate events on a calendar but a chain in which all are linked together as one. This is as it should be, for Christmas is a holiday that we celebrate not as individuals nor as a nation, but as a human family—and not merely as a family living in this age and time, but as a family linked through history, in ways we still cannot fully comprehend, to that First Christmas in Bethlehem.” (1986)

“Christmas, as the carol tells us, is ‘the most wonderful time of the year.’ . . . What with the sights of brilliantly decorated trees, the sounds of familiar hymns and songs, and tastes of fresh-baked cookies and other treats, and above all the long-anticipated visit from St. Nick, Christmas for children is a time unlike any other. That is true for grownups as well, of course; the joy and meaning of Christmas only deepen as we grow older. We still find pleasure in exchanging greetings and gifts, and we still delight in the warm and colorful images of the holiday. But we perceive ever more clearly, as did Scrooge, that the true beauty and wonder of the season lie in the Christmas spirit of giving of ourselves for others—the message of the Prince of Peace whose birth we celebrate. At Christmastime we accompany shepherds and Wise Men to the stable as of old, where we relearn the timeless and priceless lessons of love, humility and sacrifice, where we see the Christmas spirit as God’s love flowing through so many people all at once.” (1987)

“Christmas . . . reminds us that we need not feel lonely because we are loved, loved with the greatest love there has ever been or ever will be. In the bustle and rush of daily life, we sometimes forget how very much we have and how much we have to thank God for providing for things as beautiful as a winter snow or babies who will be seeing their first Christmas, seeing the wonder of its beauty in their eyes. And, yes, from the poorest among us to the most fortunate, we are all blessed.” (1988)

“As we come home with gladness to family and friends this Christmas, let us also remember our neighbors who cannot go home themselves. Our compassion and concern this Christmas and all year long will mean much to the hospitalized, the homeless, the convalescent, the orphaned—and will surely lead us on our way to the joy and peace of Bethlehem and the Christ Child Who bids us come.” (1988)

On Jesus

Again, as president he represented the whole of the populace, acknowledging differing opinions as to who the Babe of Bethlehem really was.

“The man whose birthday we celebrate in this season came to us the Prince of Peace, not in a chariot, but as a babe in a manger. I know there are some who celebrate this day, the Christmas Day, as the birthday of a great teacher and philosopher. To others of us, he is more than that; he is also divine. But to all of us, he taught us the way that we could have peace on Earth and good will to men, and that is if we would do unto others as we would have others do unto us.” (1981)

“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.” (1982)

“I’d like to read some lines from a favorite of mine called, ‘One Solitary Life,’ which describes for me the meaning of Christmas. . . . Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone. And today he is the centerpiece of much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon Earth as powerfully as this one solitary life. (1983)

“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.” (1983)

“For many of us, Christmas is a deeply holy day, the birthday of the promised Messiah, the Son of God who came to redeem our sins and teach us that most needed of all lessons, ‘Peace on Earth, good will among men.’ For others of us, Christmas marks the birth of a good, great man, a prophet whose teachings provide a pattern of living pertinent to all times and to all people. Either way, his message remains the guiding star of our endeavors.” (1984)

“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. He promised there will never be a long night that does not end. He promised to deliver us from dark torment and tragedy into the warming sunlight of human happiness, and beyond that, into paradise. He’s never been a halfway giver; His generosity is pure and perfect and sure.” (1985)

“For some Christmas just marks the birth of a great philosopher and prophet, a great and good man. To others, it marks something still more: the pinnacle of all history, the moment when the God of all creation— in the words of the creed, God from God and light from light—humbled himself to become a baby crying in a manger. To everyone Christmas is a time of happiness and cheer, a time of peace and good will and glad tidings. Because of these traditions, no Christmas celebration truly stands alone. For most of us, the holidays bring back such a trove of memories, evoked by things as simple as the scent of pine or the painted scene on a greeting card, that our Christmases become not separate events on a calendar but a chain in which all are linked together as one. This is as it should be, for Christmas is a holiday that we celebrate not as individuals nor as a nation, but as a human family—and not merely as a family living in this age and time, but as a family linked through history, in ways we still cannot fully comprehend, to that First Christmas in Bethlehem.” (1986)

On Symbolism

Painting pictures in our minds eyes with his words, Reagan used the imagery of Christmas to urge us on to action.

“Like the shepherds and wise men of that first Christmas, we Americans have always tried to follow a higher light, a star, if you will. . . . This beloved tradition, which began nearly 50 years ago, has a special symbolism for our people. It’s as if when we light this tree, we light something within ourselves as well.” (1982)

“Today, as we gather with our family and friends to honor Christ, we can experience the same peace and joy as the shepherds and the Magi did almost two thousand years ago. If we make that peace and joy a part of our lives, our example will serve as a guide and an inspiration for everyone we meet.” (1984)

“Above [Mary, Joseph and Jesus] was the Star, the guiding light which would shine down through the centuries for everyone seeking the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (1985)

“And this brings us to the custom of the Christmas tree. For the ancestors from whom we inherited this Christmas tree believed that the glad tidings of Christmas were of such power, of such beauty and life-giving force, that they affected not only the human heart but extended to all creation.” (1986)

“For it is only in finding and living the eternal meaning of the Nativity that we can be truly happy, truly at peace, truly home.” (1988)

On those without Jobs

For Reagan, Christmas was not only about symbols, but action. And caring. And how we truly saw our fellows.

“This holiday season, as we work our way out of a recession, too many still find themselves without jobs, forced to cut back on things that they once thought of as their normal pattern of living. They aren’t statistics; they’re people. They’re our neighbors, friends, and, yes, family, and they make up that group that right now we call the unemployed.”

On ‘public-spirited’ Projects

He called the nation’s attention to programs which focused on the individual touch, such as the Make a Wish projects and Big Brothers and Sisters program.

“In this Christmas season,” he said of those who volunteer for these programs, “you remind us all of the greatest gift we can give to each other is the gift of ourselves.”

“’Is the Christmas spirit still alive?’ some ask. Well, you bet it is. Being Americans, we open our hearts to neighbors less fortunate. We try to protect them from hunger and cold. And we reach out in so many ways—from toys-for-tots drives across the country, to good will by the Salvation Army, to American Red Cross efforts which provide food, shelter, and Christmas cheer from Atlanta to Seattle. Churches are so generous it’s impossible to keep track. One example: Reverend Bill Singles’ Presbyterian Meeting House in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, is simultaneously sponsoring hot meals on wheels programs, making and delivering hundreds of sandwiches and box loads of clothes, while visiting local hospitals and sending postcards to shut-ins and religious dissidents abroad.” (1983)

On Giving

While the government has a role in caring for those in need, it is the individual which bears the real and effective responsibility to care for those in need. This caring is more personable and more effective. It blesses both the cheerful giver and the grateful person who receives. After being blessed by such giving, the next phase for the person who has received is to become an even greater giver himself.

“The Yuletide season is characterized in our country by the giving of gifts, a spirit of charity, and, yes, good will, more so than at any other time of the year. Already traditional programs are underway, drives to collect food and clothing for those who are in need.” (1982)

“Still, for every unemployed individual there are 9 of us who do have jobs, and with that ratio of 1 out of 10 in mind, I’d like to make a suggestion. How about those of us who are employed making sure that those who aren’t will nevertheless have a merry Christmas. This is something that needs doing at the community level—neighbor helping neighbor.” (1982)

“In Ephesians we read that ‘Each of us has been given his gift, his portion of Christ’s bounty.’ Well, let us share our bounty this Christmas season. Let us offer not only our hearts and prayers but a generous hand to those who need our help.” (1982)

“Christmas is a time for giving, and as we reach out to family and friends, I hope we’ll also open our hearts to those who are lonely and in need, citizens less fortunate than ourselves, brave soldiers working to preserve peace from the tip of Alaska to the shores of Lebanon, to the DMZ in Korea, . . . and millions forbidden the freedom to worship. . .” (1983)

“Many of us do good at this time; most of us all mean to, but sometimes good intentions get lost in the hurry and bustle of the holiday season. Well, this is only the 13th day of December. We still have a dozen days to answer that letter of a child who wrote Santa Claus at the post office, or to buy an extra gift for a Toys for Tot program, or whatever. So, if you’ve forgotten to do it—well, do it, and do it tonight or tomorrow. One of the great messages of this season is that it’s never too late to touch a life and maybe change the world forever for someone.” (1984)

“This, then, expresses the true meaning of Christmas. 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? There’s still time for joy and gladness to touch a sad and lonely soul, still time to feed a hungry child, to wrap a present for a kind old man feeling forlorn and afraid, and to reach out to an abandoned mother raising children on her own.” (1985)

“This spirit of love, as simple as a spoken greeting and as profound as a changed heart, seems so full that it ceaselessly looks for ways to express its power. We respond to it best when we share it with family, friend or stranger—when we recognize that, under the sheltering evergreen branches of God’s love, all are family and no one is a stranger. When we do these things, when we visit the lonely or help those in need, when a family is reconciled, Christmas is real and present, and that is truly what makes it ‘the most wonderful time of the year.’” (1987)

“Christmas reminds us, as well, that He taught us all we need to know about caring for our fellow man and to take responsibility for the very condition of the world. Thus we must reflect: We must ever reflect upon the love we have for others and the joy we take in giving of ourselves to those who are less fortunate. From those who must depend on charity to see that their children receive a Christmas present to the tragic victims of famine and earthquake worldwide, we know what it is we must do and how ennobling an experience it is to have done it. We Americans live with bounties that those who lived at the time of the Christ child’s birth could never have imagined. The bounties are material, yes, but chiefly they are spiritual. Those who would worship the birth of our Lord may do so in the church of their choosing and in the way of their choosing. Those among us who do not so celebrate the birth are free to share with us in this, our time of joy. In this day, when our freedom to worship is most precious, let us redouble our efforts to bring this and other greatest freedoms to all the peoples of the Earth.” (1988)

More than most public servants, President Reagan believed, spoke, and worked to foster “the twin beacons of faith and freedom.” His Christmas messages succinctly illustrate how this twin dynamic impacts our everyday lives.

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Click here to read a collection of the full text of these messages.

See below for excerpts.

CHRISTMAS 1981 – “The world is full of peril, as well as promise. Too many of its people, even now, live in the shadow of want and tyranny. As I speak to you tonight, the fate of a proud and ancient nation hangs in the balance. For a thousand years, Christmas has been celebrated in Poland, a land of deep religious faith, but this Christmas brings little joy to the courageous Polish people. They have been betrayed by their own government.”

1981 Lighting the National Community Christmas Tree — Maybe it’s fitting that children should be here and that Christmas is a time for children, because the man whose birthday we celebrate in this season came to us the Prince of Peace, not in a chariot, but as a babe in a manger. I know there are some who celebrate this day, the Christmas Day, as the birthday of a great teacher and philosopher. To others of us, he is more than that; he is also divine. But to all of us, he taught us the way that we could have peace on Earth and good will to men, and that is if we would do unto others as we would have others do unto us. . . .

We all know that this Christmas is not as happy for some Americans as it could be, not as happy for some people out in other parts of the world. We’ve had other Christmases in our land-the first one when we were a nation in 1776, and Washington led his men across the Delaware River in a battle that set the stage for our independence. . . .

Address to the Nation about Christmas and events in Poland — G. K. Chesterton once said that the world would never starve for wonders, but only for the want of wonder. 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. . . .

Like the shepherds and wise men of that first Christmas, we Americans have always tried to follow a higher light, a star, if you will. At lonely campfire vigils along the frontier, in the darkest days of the Great Depression, through war and peace, the twin beacons of faith and freedom have brightened the American sky. At times our footsteps may have faltered, but trusting in God’s help, we’ve never lost our way.

Just across the way from the White House stand the two great emblems of the holiday season: a Menorah, symbolizing the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, and the National Christmas Tree, a beautiful towering blue spruce from Pennsylvania. Like the National Christmas Tree, our country is a living, growing thing planted in rich American soil. Only our devoted care can bring it to full flower. So, let this holiday season be for us a time of rededication. . . .

The world is full of peril, as well as promise. Too many of its people, even now, live in the shadow of want and tyranny. As I speak to you tonight, the fate of a proud and ancient nation hangs in the balance. For a thousand years, Christmas has been celebrated in Poland, a land of deep religious faith, but this Christmas brings little joy to the courageous Polish people. They have been betrayed by their own government. . . .

Once, earlier in this century, an evil influence threatened that the lights were going out all over the world. Let the light of millions of candles in American homes give notice that the light of freedom is not going to be extinguished. We are blessed with a freedom and abundance denied to so many. Let those candles remind us that these blessings bring with them a solid obligation, an obligation to the God who guides us, an obligation to the heritage of liberty and dignity handed down to us by our forefathers and an obligation to the children of the world, whose future will be shaped by the way we live our lives today. . . .

1981 Christmas Message — The Nativity story of nearly twenty centuries ago is known by all faiths as a hymn to the brotherhood of man. For Christians, it is the fulfillment of age-old prophecies and the reaffirmation of God’s great love for all of us. Through a generous Heavenly Father’s gift of His Son, hope and compassion entered a world weary with fear and despair and changed it for all time.

On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Christ with prayer, feasting, and great merriment. But, most of all, we experience it in our hearts. For, more than just a day, Christmas is a state of mind. It is found throughout the year whenever faith overcomes doubt, hope conquers despair, and love triumphs over hate. It is present when men of any creed bring love and understanding to the hearts of their fellow man. The feeling is seen in the wondrous faces of children and in the hopeful eyes of the aged. It overflows the hearts of cheerful givers and the souls of the caring. And it is reflected in the brilliant colors, joyful sounds, and beauty of the winter season.

~

CHRISTMAS 1982 – “This holiday season, as we work our way out of a recession, too many still find themselves without jobs, forced to cut back on things that they once thought of as their normal pattern of living. They aren’t statistics; they’re people. They’re our neighbors, friends, and, yes, family, and they make up that group that right now we call the unemployed.”

1982 Lighting the National Community Christmas Tree — In this holiday season, we celebrate the birthday of one who, for almost 2,000 years, has been a greater influence on humankind than all the rulers, all the scholars, all the armies and all the navies that ever marched or sailed, all put together. He brought to the world the simple message of peace on Earth, good will to all mankind.

Some celebrate the day as marking the birth of a great and good man, a wise teacher and prophet, and they do so sincerely. But for many of us it’s also a holy day, the birthday of the Prince of Peace, a day when “God so loved the world” that He sent us His only begotten son to assure forgiveness of our sins.

The Yuletide season is characterized in our country by the giving of gifts, a spirit of charity, and, yes, good will, more so than at any other time of the year. Already traditional programs are underway, drives to collect food and clothing for those who are in need. . . .

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

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

This beloved tradition, which began nearly 50 years ago, has a special symbolism for our people. It’s as if when we light this tree, we light something within ourselves as well. And during the Christmas season I think most Americans do feel a greater sense of family, friendship, giving, and joy. . . .

In Ephesians we read that “Each of us has been given his gift, his portion of Christ’s bounty.” Well, let us share our bounty this Christmas season. Let us offer not only our hearts and prayers but a generous hand to those who need our help. . . .

1982 Christmas Message — In spite of everything, we Americans are still uniquely blessed, not only with the rich bounty of our land but by a bounty of the spirit—a kind of year-round Christmas spirit that still makes our country a beacon of hope in a troubled world and that makes this Christmas and every Christmas even more special for all of us who number among our gifts the birthright of being an American. . . .

~

CHRISTMAS 1983 – “And, yes, let us remember all those who are persecuted inside the Soviet bloc—not because they commit a crime, but because they love God in their hearts and want the freedom to celebrate Hanukkah or worship the Christ Child.”

1983 Lighting the National Community Christmas Tree — Christmas is a time for giving, and as we reach out to family and friends, I hope we’ll also open our hearts to those who are lonely and in need, citizens less fortunate than ourselves, brave soldiers working to preserve peace from the tip of Alaska to the shores of Lebanon, to the DMZ in Korea, families maintaining a constant vigil for their missing in action, and millions forbidden the freedom to worship a God who so loved the world that He gave us the birth of the Christ Child so that we might learn to love each other. . . .

I’d like to read some lines from a favorite of mine called, “One Solitary Life,” which describes for me the meaning of Christmas. . . . Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone. And today he is the centerpiece of much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon Earth as powerfully as this one solitary life.

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. . . .

1983 Christmas Message — Christmas is a time for children, and rightly so. We celebrate the birthday of the Prince of Peace who came as a babe in a manger. Some celebrate Christmas as the birthday of a great teacher and philosopher. But to other millions of us, Jesus is much more. He is divine, living assurance that God so loved the world He gave us His only begotten Son so that by believing in Him and learning to love each other we could one day be together in paradise.

It’s been said that all the kings who ever reigned, that all the parliaments that ever sat have not done as much to advance the cause of peace on Earth and good will to men as the man from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth.

Christmas is also a time to remember the treasures of our own history. We remember one Christmas in particular, 1776, our first year as a nation. The Revolutionary War had been going badly. But George Washington’s faith, courage, and leadership would turn the tide of history our way. On Christmas night he led a band of ragged soldiers across the Delaware River through driving snow to a victory that saved the cause of independence. It’s said that their route of march was stained by bloody footprints, but their spirit never faltered and their will could not be crushed.

The image of George Washington kneeling in prayer in the snow is one of the most famous in American history. He personified a people who knew it was not enough to depend on their own courage and goodness; they must also seek help from God, their Father and Preserver. . . .

“Is the Christmas spirit still alive?” some ask. Well, you bet it is. Being Americans, we open our hearts to neighbors less fortunate. We try to protect them from hunger and cold. And we reach out in so many ways—from toys-for-tots drives across the country, to good will by the Salvation Army, to American Red Cross efforts which provide food, shelter, and Christmas cheer from Atlanta to Seattle. Churches are so generous it’s impossible to keep track. One example: Reverend Bill Singles’ Presbyterian Meeting House in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, is simultaneously sponsoring hot meals on wheels programs, making and delivering hundreds of sandwiches and box loads of clothes, while visiting local hospitals and sending postcards to shut-ins and religious dissidents abroad. . . .

And, yes, let us remember all those who are persecuted inside the Soviet bloc—not because they commit a crime, but because they love God in their hearts and want the freedom to celebrate Hanukkah or worship the Christ Child. . . .

~

CHRISTMAS 1984 – “For the past few years in this great house, I’ve thought of our first real Christmas as a nation. It was the dark and freezing Christmas of 1776, when General Washington and his troops crossed the Delaware. They and Providence gave our nation its first Christmas gift—a victory that brought us closer to liberty, the condition in which God meant man to flourish.”

1984 Lighting the National Christmas Tree — For many of us, Christmas is a deeply holy day, the birthday of the promised Messiah, the Son of God who came to redeem our sins and teach us that most needed of all lessons, “Peace on Earth, good will among men.” For others of us, Christmas marks the birth of a good, great man, a prophet whose teachings provide a pattern of living pertinent to all times and to all people. Either way, his message remains the guiding star of our endeavors.

I guess we all have our own favorite Christmas memories, for this is the time of year when most of us try to be better than our everyday selves.

For the past few years in this great house, I’ve thought of our first real Christmas as a nation. It was the dark and freezing Christmas of 1776, when General Washington and his troops crossed the Delaware. They and Providence gave our nation its first Christmas gift—a victory that brought us closer to liberty, the condition in which God meant man to flourish. . . .

Many of us do good at this time; most of us all mean to, but sometimes good intentions get lost in the hurry and bustle of the holiday season. Well, this is only the 13th day of December. We still have a dozen days to answer that letter of a child who wrote Santa Claus at the post office, or to buy an extra gift for a Toys for Tot program, or whatever. So, if you’ve forgotten to do it—well, do it, and do it tonight or tomorrow. One of the great messages of this season is that it’s never too late to touch a life and maybe change the world forever for someone.

1984 Christmas Message — The first Christmas was a time of family joy for Joseph and Mary and the child Jesus. Although they had made a long journey to reach Bethlehem and were lodged in humble surroundings, they knew that the child Mary bore was a gift not to them alone, but to all mankind. The shepherds who gathered around the manger, and the wise men who traveled from the East to honor the King of Kings, knew that the star above Bethlehem was a guide not only for the pilgrims of that day, but for those in every age seeking the peace which passes understanding. . . .

More than any gift or toy, ornament or tree, let us resolve that this Christmas shall be, like that first Christmas, a celebration of interior treasures. And let us resolve to share our many blessings with others now and in the year to come—from the hungry or the helpless near at hand to those in trouble or turmoil in distant lands from Africa to Asia and beyond.

Today, as we gather with our family and friends to honor Christ, we can experience the same peace and joy as the shepherds and the Magi did almost two thousand years ago. If we make that peace and joy a part of our lives, our example will serve as a guide and an inspiration for everyone we meet. . . .

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CHRISTMAS 1985 – “There’s still time to remember our Armed Forces, to express our profound gratitude to those keeping watch on faraway frontiers of freedom. . . . There’s still time to remember the deepest truth of all: that there can be no prisons, no walls, no boundaries separating the members of God’s family.”

1985 Lighting the National Christmas Tree — The menorah stands lighted in Lafayette Park, for this is also the time of Hanukkah, and this season is rich in the meaning of our Judeo-Christian tradition. . . .

Tonight we’re drawn in warmth to one another as we reflect upon the deeply holy meaning of the miracle we shall soon celebrate. We know that Mary and Joseph reached the stable in Bethlehem sometime after sunset. 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. He promised there will never be a long night that does not end. He promised to deliver us from dark torment and tragedy into the warming sunlight of human happiness, and beyond that, into paradise. He’s never been a halfway giver; His generosity is pure and perfect and sure.

This, then, expresses the true meaning of Christmas. 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? There’s still time for joy and gladness to touch a sad and lonely soul, still time to feed a hungry child, to wrap a present for a kind old man feeling forlorn and afraid, and to reach out to an abandoned mother raising children on her own. . . .

There’s still time to remember our Armed Forces, to express our profound gratitude to those keeping watch on faraway frontiers of freedom. . . . There’s still time to remember the deepest truth of all: that there can be no prisons, no walls, no boundaries separating the members of God’s family. Let us reach out tonight to every person who is persecuted; let us embrace and comfort, support and love them. Let us come together as one family under the fatherhood of God, binding ourselves in a communion of hearts, for tonight and tomorrow and for all time. . . .

1985 Christmas Message — Amid all the hubbub and hustle this time of year always brings, we should not forget the simple beauty of that first Christmas long ago. Joseph and Mary, far from home and huddled in a place barely fit for habitation, felt the universal love that binds all families together and a unique awe at the special purpose for which God had chosen them. Gathering around them first the shepherds and later, the Magi—poor and rich, humble and great, native and foreign—each bowed before the King whose dominion knows no boundaries.

Above them was the Star, the guiding light which would shine down through the centuries for everyone seeking the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

In the center of all lay the infant, born in the shadows and straw of a stable in Bethlehem, yet truly the fulfillment of ancient prophecies and the hope of every age to come.

Message on the Observance of Orthodox Christmas — On behalf of my fellow Americans, I am honored to send you our warmest greetings on this day, this deeply holy day of Christmas for Orthodox and other Christian believers around the world including within the Soviet Union. The date that you and we celebrate Christmas may be different. But the meaning and magnificence of what we celebrate — the divine birth of one man, hero, strong yet tender, Prince of Peace—is the same. This birth brought forth good tidings of great joy to all people. For unto us was born this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord.

We are told there are up to 100 million believers in the Soviet Union alone . . . please know that we in America join you as one family under the Fatherhood of God, binding ourselves in a communion of hearts, for today and tomorrow and for all time. Know, too, our heartfelt desire that this day will kindle in all men that spirit which alone can bring us real peace on earth.

Millions of Americans join you our brothers and sisters in a common struggle to overcome the barriers to peace—falsehood, selfishness and pride, whose bitter fruit becomes a thirst for power and domination.

God’s commandment that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves is a commandment to respect the God-given rights of our fellow man—it is the commandment of freedom and of peace. . . .

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CHRISTMAS 1986 – “Because of these traditions, no Christmas celebration truly stands alone. For most of us, the holidays bring back such a trove of memories, evoked by things as simple as the scent of pine or the painted scene on a greeting card, that our Christmases become not separate events on a calendar but a chain in which all are linked together as one. This is as it should be, for Christmas is a holiday that we celebrate not as individuals nor as a nation, but as a human family—and not merely as a family living in this age and time, but as a family linked through history, in ways we still cannot fully comprehend, to that First Christmas in Bethlehem.”

1986 Lighting the National Community Christmas Tree — For some Christmas just marks the birth of a great philosopher and prophet, a great and good man. To others, it marks something still more: the pinnacle of all history, the moment when the God of all creation— in the words of the creed, God from God and light from light—humbled himself to become a baby crying in a manger. To everyone Christmas is a time of happiness and cheer, a time of peace and good will and glad tidings.

And this brings us to the custom of the Christmas tree. For the ancestors from whom we inherited this Christmas tree believed that the glad tidings of Christmas were of such power, of such beauty and life-giving force, that they affected not only the human heart but extended to all creation.

1986 Christmas Message — Preparations are made in homes and churches and shops in every city and town, and the land is full of traditional signs and symbols of its coming: Fresh snow resting lightly on the holly bush, package-laden crowds crushing the storefronts and bus stops, strings of lights gleaming from the housetops, chestnut vendors and street corner Santas, school plays with children dressed—hardly needing the costume—as angels, and choirs joining heart and voice in joyous song.

Because of these traditions, no Christmas celebration truly stands alone. For most of us, the holidays bring back such a trove of memories, evoked by things as simple as the scent of pine or the painted scene on a greeting card, that our Christmases become not separate events on a calendar but a chain in which all are linked together as one. This is as it should be, for Christmas is a holiday that we celebrate not as individuals nor as a nation, but as a human family—and not merely as a family living in this age and time, but as a family linked through history, in ways we still cannot fully comprehend, to that First Christmas in Bethlehem. . . .

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CHRISTMAS 1987 – “The lighting of the National Christmas Tree with its Star of Peace atop could not come at a more symbolic moment. Two hours ago, General Secretary Gorbachev’s plane touched down on American soil. . . . I hope the General Secretary is watching this on TV. I’d like him to see what we’re celebrating.”

1987 Lighting the National Christmas Tree — The lighting of the National Christmas Tree with its Star of Peace atop could not come at a more symbolic moment. Two hours ago, General Secretary Gorbachev’s plane touched down on American soil. . . . I hope the General Secretary is watching this on TV. I’d like him to see what we’re celebrating, because for us, Christmas celebrates the cause of peace on Earth, good will toward men. . . .

1987 Christmas Message — Christmas, as the carol tells us, is “the most wonderful time of the year.” . . . What with the sights of brilliantly decorated trees, the sounds of familiar hymns and songs, and tastes of fresh-baked cookies and other treats, and above all the long-anticipated visit from St. Nick, Christmas for children is a time unlike any other.

That is true for grownups as well, of course; the joy and meaning of Christmas only deepen as we grow older. We still find pleasure in exchanging greetings and gifts, and we still delight in the warm and colorful images of the holiday. But we perceive ever more clearly, as did Scrooge, that the true beauty and wonder of the season lie in the Christmas spirit of giving of ourselves for others—the message of the Prince of Peace whose birth we celebrate. At Christmastime we accompany shepherds and Wise Men to the stable as of old, where we relearn the timeless and priceless lessons of love, humility and sacrifice, where we see the Christmas spirit as God’s love flowing through so many people all at once.

This spirit of love, as simple as a spoken greeting and as profound as a changed heart, seems so full that it ceaselessly looks for ways to express its power. We respond to it best when we share it with family, friend or stranger—when we recognize that, under the sheltering evergreen branches of God’s love, all are family and no one is a stranger. When we do these things, when we visit the lonely or help those in need, when a family is reconciled, Christmas is real and present, and that is truly what makes it “the most wonderful time of the year.” . . .

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CHRISTMAS 1988 – “We Americans live with bounties that those who lived at the time of the Christ child’s birth could never have imagined. The bounties are material, yes, but chiefly they are spiritual. Those who would worship the birth of our Lord may do so in the church of their choosing and in the way of their choosing. Those among us who do not so celebrate the birth are free to share with us in this, our time of joy. In this day, when our freedom to worship is most precious, let us redouble our efforts to bring this and other greatest freedoms to all the peoples of the Earth.”

1988 Lighting the National Christmas Tree — Christmas . . . reminds us that we need not feel lonely because we are loved, loved with the greatest love there has ever been or ever will be. In the bustle and rush of daily life, we sometimes forget how very much we have and how much we have to thank God for providing for things as beautiful as a winter snow or babies who will be seeing their first Christmas, seeing the wonder of its beauty in their eyes. And, yes, from the poorest among us to the most fortunate, we are all blessed.

Christmas reminds us, as well, that He taught us all we need to know about caring for our fellow man and to take responsibility for the very condition of the world. Thus we must reflect: We must ever reflect upon the love we have for others and the joy we take in giving of ourselves to those who are less fortunate. From those who must depend on charity to see that their children receive a Christmas present to the tragic victims of famine and earthquake worldwide, we know what it is we must do and how ennobling an experience it is to have done it.

We Americans live with bounties that those who lived at the time of the Christ child’s birth could never have imagined. The bounties are material, yes, but chiefly they are spiritual. Those who would worship the birth of our Lord may do so in the church of their choosing and in the way of their choosing. Those among us who do not so celebrate the birth are free to share with us in this, our time of joy. In this day, when our freedom to worship is most precious, let us redouble our efforts to bring this and other greatest freedoms to all the peoples of the Earth.

1988 Christmas Message – As we come home with gladness to family and friends this Christmas, let us also remember our neighbors who cannot go home themselves. Our compassion and concern this Christmas and all year long will mean much to the hospitalized, the homeless, the convalescent, the orphaned—and will surely lead us on our way to the joy and peace of Bethlehem and the Christ Child Who bids us come. For it is only in finding and living the eternal meaning of the Nativity that we can be truly happy, truly at peace, truly home.

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