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Remarks at the Lighting of the Nation's Christmas Tree

December 16, 1970

I know we want to express our very grateful appreciation to the Mormon Choir and to the Friends University Symphonic Choir for their participation and particularly under the rather adverse weather conditions which I know are very hard for those of you here in the audience.

As I was preparing my Christmas message to the Nation, it occurred to me that when we light the national Christmas tree, we do so not only as a Nation but really as a family, a family of more than 200 million members.

This week and next week millions of, trees all over America will be lighted just as we light this tree today. And all over America families will be gathering together.

At Christmas I think we all think of things like Currier and Ives prints, of snow and Santa Claus, of love and laughter and homecoming. For this is part of the spirit of Christmas. It speaks to something deep and eternal in the human spirit, a yearning for hope, a celebration of life, a wish to put aside all the care and the discord that press in upon us so much of the rest of the year, a wish to let "the better angels of our nature" sing a little and to sing along with them.

The spirit of Christmas is joyous, because it is the spirit of peace--a spirit of loving, of giving, of caring, and letting the light of life shine through.

I received a Christmas card the other day--and thousands of Christmas cards come to the President of the United States and his family--but this one particularly I remember from a lady in California. She wrote something on it. Let me read what she wrote:

"During this Christmas season and throughout the new year, all Americans would like to have peace in the world, peace in our homes, and especially peace in our hearts"--peace in the world, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts.

In the Christmas season, we do find peace in our hearts. We find it because this is a time for celebrating the simple things and the personal things, the things that mean so much to us in human terms. We celebrate the love that unites a family and the little acts of kindness, the touch of a hand, the words of comfort, the extra care that a mother takes as she bakes a Christmas pie.

And we think of the poor and the needy and the lonely, and we think of them not as problems, but as people with problems, and we try to help.

And in the act of giving we discover once again how good it feels to give. We find peace in our hearts that way.

As families gather together and those who have been away come home, we discover once again the joys of sharing. We remember the past Christmases. We remember the little incidents of our childhood and how important the little things can be, the mending of a broken toy, the happiness of a grandfather at the sight of his grandchild's smile, and, together again, we find peace in our families.

And then in this larger family, this national family that we call America, of which all of us are a part, we find ourselves drawn together. We find that in the spirit of Christmas, in the spirit of peace, we can put aside what divides us and rediscover what really unites us--the concern for one another, the love of liberty and justice, the knowledge that we are a great Nation because we are a great and diverse people.

We are a national family of many different outlooks and many different hopes and many different problems. But what holds us together is that we respect one another, that we care about one another so that we draw strength from our differences as we address our problems.

Just the other evening when I opened' the White House Conference on Children, I recalled something that Edmund Burke once said. What patriotism really means is love of country. And Burke reminded us that for us to love our country, our country must be lovely.

I want young Americans to learn to love America, not because it is the richest country in the world, and it is, and not because it is the strongest country in the world or merely because you happen to have been born here, but I want young Americans and all Americans to love America because this is a good country, and because we can, in our making it better, and because it therefore is truly a lovely country.

This, I think, is the spirit of the American family, knowing that there is much to be done, striving together to do it, and knowing that at heart, in the human sense of heart, this is a lovely country.

In this spirit, we can find peace in our larger family.

And our greatest hope in this Christmas season and in all seasons is, of course, peace in the whole world. We can be grateful in this Christmas season that already we have been able to bring 200,000 men back from Vietnam, more coming home. We can look forward with assurance to an end of that war. And as we look around the world, we see that there are still many other danger spots. And there are also many other threats to the peace of the world.

But because of the progress that we have made over the past e years, as I .stand here before you, the American people, in this Christmas season, I believe that I can confidently say that we now have the best chance since the end of World War II to build what we have not had in this whole century, a full generation of peace.

As we look forward to that great hope of a generation of peace, we think especially of our children, and at Christmas we think especially of our children.

And as we light this great tree, and as millions of other trees are lighted in homes across the land, we do so in a spirit of peace and love and gathering together.

And as the lights go on, we know that these lights will reflect the light in the eyes of millions of children and the light of hope that stirs in millions of hearts, for the true light of Christmas is not the light on the tree. It is the light in the eyes of a child.

And now we come to the big moment we have all been waiting for. We are going to light the tree, and because this is a very big tree, I understand that I am going to have some help to light it.

And I am going to go down here in the audience and pick out one of the children to help me press the button to light the tree. I see we have lots of volunteers.

Now, we picked this boy out. He is the smallest boy here. But he can do this, I know, very well. And his name is Andre.

Note: The President spoke at 5:40 p.m. at the 17th annual Pageant of Peace ceremonies on the Ellipse near the White House. The national community Christmas tree, a 78-foot white spruce from the Black Hills of South Dakota, was lighted with the help of Andre Proctor, age 5, of Washington, D.C.

The President's remarks were broadcast live on television.

Richard Nixon, Remarks at the Lighting of the Nation's Christmas Tree Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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