Jimmy Carter photo

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

December 14, 1978

THE PRESIDENT. Merry Christmas!

AUDIENCE. Merry Christmas!

THE PRESIDENT. Come on—Merry Christmas, everybody!

AUDIENCE. Merry Christmas!

THE PRESIDENT. That's better.

As you well know, the theme of this year's Pageant of Peace is unity. There is much to divide us in this world. And sometimes we concentrate too much of our attention on those divisions among us. But Christmas is a good time to recall how much unites us as people and also as nations. We are united in our belief in human dignity, in our conviction that the most likely way to find the truth is to free people's minds and consciences, and that the least likely way to find the truth is to silence people's voices and to try to make them deny what they really believe.

Our country is entering a period of healing and of hope. We are joining together as a people again, realizing the strength of a common purpose. We are blessed with warm fires and warm memories and the. voices of children singing of joy in the night. I think that God in His great wisdom knew that we needed these things to help us face the cold and sometimes lonely times. We need the joy of children's voices to remind us that the only things that we can truly give to each other are the only things that we truly need—an ear to listen, a heart to care, a word of encouragement, and a hand to help.

At Christmas, we have not only this year's special moments but the rich store of all Christmases past to remember and to use.

When I was growing up, President Franklin Roosevelt was lighting the Nation's Christmas tree. During the difficult years of the Depression, and later during the Second World War, too many of our own Nation's Christmases have been shadowed by war. We are fortunate as we light this Christmas tree tonight that our Nation and most of the nations of the world are not at war

This is always a matter of concern, the threat of violence in many corners of the: globe. But this Christmas is a time of relative calm and also a time of great hope. Two ancient enemies are on the threshold of an agreement that could bring peace to the Middle East. It is my earnest prayer that the day will soon come when all children in the Middle East can play in the sunshine without fear, when their young men and women can turn their energies and talents away from war and death, to making the deserts fruitful and to building, instead of preparing to destroy.

The Prophet Isaiah, who wrote about ancient wars between Israel and her neighbors, tells us that the work of righteousness is peace. The United States has tried this year to help other nations find peace. We have succeeded in several troubled areas in getting people to talk to each other and to work out their differences without resorting to violence and to war.

I hope that the time has passed when people excuse the pain and destruction and death and see war in itself as a demonstration of national heroism. This generation, our generation, has seen too much of war's desolation. We've seen what it can do spiritually, as well as physically, to a people. War is no longer the brave sound of parades and drums and trumpets. We've seen it as it is, the loss of the young in the full flower of their promise, the death of families and entire communities, and the threat of nuclear devastation for the world.

I think the world is more ready than ever before to understand the thrust of Ralph Waldo Emerson's words that peace is victory for both sides. I believe that nations may be ready now to accept the possibility that those whom they have called enemies might live undisturbed on Earth and that we might at last learn to call even enemies brothers and sisters.

Perhaps at last the same fervor and commitment and sense of high purpose with which we once sought victory in war can now be devoted to our search for peace. And then we will truly be able to say in our hearts, for the fulfillment of the ancient promise of peace on Earth, good will toward men.

The evergreen tree that we use at Christmas is a symbol of eternal life, and also of the perpetual renewal of life. As I light out' Nation's Christmas tree, and whenever you see a glowing tree this Christmas, I hope that you will see it as a rekindling of our faith and hope and our dedication to the cause of unity and a great nation's influence throughout the world for peace on Earth.

Thank you very much. And now we'll proceed to wish all the world a happy Christmas by lighting the Christmas tree together.

Note: The President spoke at 5:44 p.m. on the Ellipse. Following his remarks, he lit the National Community Christmas Tree with the help of his daughter, Amy.

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/244202

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