Richard Nixon photo

Remarks at the Lighting of the Nation's Christmas Tree

December 16, 1969

Mr. Secretary, Mr. Congressman, Mr. Mayor, members of the Diplomatic Corps, and my fellow Americans:

I wish to express appreciation for the very generous statements that have been made and the citation read just a few moments ago and also for the flowers that have been presented to Mrs. Nixon, and also to the choir from Chattanooga, Tennessee, which has entertained us in such, it seems to me, a moving way in this Christmas season.

As we look at this great tree, we are reminded of the fact that all over America during these next 2 weeks there will be trees in American homes. Forty-five million American homes will have Christmas trees that they will be lighting each in their own way.

This tree has a special meaning. It belongs to all the Nation. And that is why, as we look at this tree we think of America; we think of its role in the world; we think of the past, and we think of the future and, particularly, I think we understand that this is a very significant year in the history of our country, because it is the last Christmas of the sixties.

Next year, we enter the year of the seventies; and in the period of the seventies, the United States has a great challenge, a great challenge for the role of leadership which is ours, one that we accept, one that we did not ask for, but one in which we will meet that challenge and meet it effectively.

As we enter the years of the seventies, I think it might be well for us to get a historical perspective--to think a moment of this tree, a tree, incidentally, that grew up in the home county of my father in Ohio.1 That tree, incidentally, is 70 years of age, and I was thinking and you probably now may think with me of what America was just 70 years ago.

1The President's reference to Ohio was intended to be related to the 57 small trees which were a part of the setting, rather than the large tree which came from the State of New York,

There were only 75 million people in America then. There were no automobiles. There was no television. There were no radios. There were no airplanes.

America was not the major power of the world. It was a strong nation, but not as strong as many others in the world. And now in just 70 years, we look at America today as we enter the decade of the seventies. We have 200 million people, and by the end of the century, just 35 years more, 30 years more, we will be 300 million people.

And if we want to get the statistics on the other points that I mentioned, there are 85 million television sets, there are 80 million automobiles, there are 300 million radios in America, and 150,000 airplanes.

And we can point to the fact, too, that in this country of ours today, as distinguished from just 70 years ago when that tree was just a sapling out in Ohio--today America is the richest nation in the world; we are the strongest nation in the world. All of these things of course we look to; we point to them with a certain sense of pride. We also recognize that there is another difference, a difference which we should recognize and a difference that we want to correct. Seventy years ago, America was at peace. Today, America is not at peace.

And what we want for this Nation is not only peace now but peace in the years to come, peace for all people in the years to come.

What we must realize, too, that while America did not seek this role of world leadership, that except for the United States of America and the power that we have, that no other nation in the free world today could be free and could expect to have peace unless it were for the strength of the United States.

They could not have peace, except the kind of peace that suffocates freedom. This, as I said, is a role America did not seek. We are the first power to be the major power in the world that did not ask for it; but America, nevertheless, recognizes its role, and we are trying in our own way, sometimes imperfectly, but always, I trust, with high idealism, to meet that responsibility.

So, today I say to you that as we enter the decade of the seventies, America will continue to be rich; America will continue to have more of this world's goods; there will be more television sets and more radios and more automobiles; and, Mr. Secretary, we hope during the decade of the seventies that we will be able to have clean air, clean water, and make progress in all the great problems, including an end to hunger in this country, something we are capable of doing today that we couldn't have done 70 years ago.

But above everything else in this Christmas season, as we open this Pageant of Peace and as we light this Nation's Christmas tree, our wish, our prayer, is for peace, the kind of peace that we can live with, the kind of peace that we can be proud of, the kind of peace that exists not just for now but that gives a chance for our children also to live in peace.

That is what we believe in. That is what Americans stand for and that, believe me, is what we shall have.

And my friends, I also say to you that as we look at this great tree, there is an old saying about Christmas trees. It goes something like this: May a Christmas tree be as sturdy as faith, as high as hope, as wide as love. And I could add, may a Christmas tree, our Christmas tree, be as beautiful as peace.

I think it is. I think it will be. And may this moment be one that history will record was one in which America looked forward to a decade of the seventies in which we could celebrate our Christmases at peace with all the world.

And now with this electronic device, which also did not exist 70 years ago, we light the tree.

Note: The President spoke at 5:50 p.m. at the 16th annual Pageant of Peace ceremonies on the Ellipse near the White House. The National Community Christmas Tree was a 65-foot Norway spruce from Crandall Park in Glens Falls, N.Y.

In his opening words he referred to Secretary of the Interior Waiter J. Hickel, Representative Carleton J. King of New York, and Mayor of the District of Columbia Walter E. Washington.

The President's remarks were broadcast on radio and 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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