Jimmy Carter photo

Christmas Pageant of Peace Remarks on Lighting the National Community Christmas Tree

December 13, 1979

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

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

Thank you very much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you very much. Merry Christmas to you all.

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

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

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

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

Note: The President spoke at 5:50 p.m. on the Ellipse.

Jimmy Carter, Christmas Pageant of Peace Remarks on Lighting the National Community Christmas Tree Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/248230

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