Harry S. Truman photo

Address at the Lighting of the National Community Christmas Tree on the White House Grounds

December 24, 1947

[Broadcast nationally at 5:15 p.m.]

My fellow countrymen:

We are met on the south lawn of the White House. Above the barren treetops rises the towering shaft of the Washington Monument. The scene is peaceful and tranquil. The shadows deepen and the Holy Night falls gently over the National Capital as we gather around our Christmas tree.

Down the ages from the first Christmas through all the years of nineteen centuries, mankind in its weary pilgrimage through a changing world has been cheered and strengthened by the message of Christmas.

The angels sang for joy at the first Christmas in faraway Bethlehem. Their song has echoed through the corridors of time and will continue to sustain the heart of man through eternity.

Let us not forget that the first Christmas was a homeless one. A humble man and woman had gone up from Galilee out of the City of Nazareth to Bethlehem. There is a sense of desolation in St. Luke's brief chronicle that Mary "brought forth her firstborn son, wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn."

For many of our brethren in Europe and Asia this too will be a homeless Christmas. There can be little happiness for those who will keep another Christmas in poverty and exile and in separation from their loved ones. As we prepare to celebrate our Christmas this year in a land of plenty, we would be heartless indeed if we were indifferent to the plight of less fortunate peoples overseas.

We must not forget that our Revolutionary fathers also knew a Christmas of suffering and desolation. Washington wrote from Valley Forge 2 days before Christmas in 1777: "We have this day no less than 2,873 men in camp unfit for duty because they are barefooted and otherwise naked."

We can be thankful that our people have risen today, as did our forefathers in Washington's time, to our obligation and our opportunity.

At this point in the world's history, the words of St. Paul have greater significance than ever before. He said:

"And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."

We believe this. We accept it as a basic principle of our lives. The great heart of the American people has been moved to compassion by the needs of those in other lands who are cold and hungry.

We have supplied a part of their needs and we shall do more. In this, we are maintaining the American tradition.

In extending aid to our less fortunate brothers we are developing in their hearts the return of "hope." Because of our forts, the people of other lands see the advent of a new day in which they can lead lives free from the harrowing fear of starvation and want.

With the return of hope to these peoples will come renewed faith--faith in the dignity of the individual and the brotherhood of man.

The world grows old but the spirit of Christmas is ever young.

Happily for all mankind, the spirit of Christmas survives travail and suffering because it fills us with hope of better things to come. Let us then put our trust in the unerring Star which guided the Wise Men to the Manger of Bethlehem. Let us hearken again to the Angel Choir singing: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

With hope for the future and with faith in God, I wish all my countrymen a very Merry Christmas.

Harry S Truman, Address at the Lighting of the National Community Christmas Tree on the White House Grounds Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232625

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