As you gather with family and friends this holiday season, please take a moment to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas aside from the crowded shopping malls and exchanging of gifts. Remember in your prayers this holiday season our brave troops who are deployed around the world and unable to spend this holiday with their families, as well as those who are less fortunate here at home.
The Christmas season offers many opportunities to take part in meaningful holiday traditions. The holiday season is rich with traditions and ceremonies that carry a great deal of meaning for many Americans. Each year, Americans from around the country gather in our Nation’s Capital to celebrate the season at two prominent holiday events at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. The lighting of the United States Capitol Christmas tree is an annual custom that symbolizes the national importance of the Christmas season. This popular holiday tradition originated on Christmas Eve 1913, when a 40-foot Christmas tree was placed on the East Front of the Capitol. It included the words: “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men.”
A half-century later, in 1964, the lighting of the Capitol Christmas Tree became an annual event. A tree is selected each year from one of America's national forests and delivered to Washington, DC, to be decorated with thousands of handmade ornaments. It is lit by the Speaker of the House in a public ceremony on the West Front of the Capitol. Because of its placement on the lawn overlooking the Capitol Dome, it is also known as “the People’s Tree.” This year’s Capitol Christmas Tree is a 67-foot Engelmann spruce harvested from the Bridger-Teton National Forest in western Wyoming. In 1987, a 60-foot Norway spruce from the Wayne National Forest in southeast Ohio graced the West Front of our Nation’s Capitol during the holiday season.
The lighting of the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse in front of the White House has been an annual tradition for almost a century. The National Christmas Tree is a living Colorado blue spruce that stands on the Ellipse year-round. President Calvin Coolidge presided over the lighting of the first National Christmas Tree in 1923, and each President since then has participated in the lighting ceremony. The lighting ceremony is a festive event whose purpose is “to celebrate the season and to share the message of peace.” The timeless message of “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men,” is a goal that is shared by people of all nations.
The historical significance of Christmas in America has been apparent since our Nation’s earliest days. On the night of December 25, 1776, General George Washington and his Continental Army crossed the icy Delaware River into New Jersey, where he led a successful surprise attack against German troops allied with the British at the Battle of Trenton. One year later, after suffering a string of defeats at the hands of the British, Washington and his army observed Christmas in their winter quarters at Valley Forge. On Christmas Day 1868, in an effort to reunite a Nation still healing from the wounds of the Civil War, President Andrew Johnson unconditionally pardoned “every person who directly or indirectly” fought for the Confederacy. Through the years, American families have traditionally observed Christmas in their homes and places of worship. President Ulysses Grant formally declared December 25th a national holiday in 1870.
On Christmas Eve 1968, at the end of one of the most turbulent years in American history, the crew of Apollo 8 broadcast a healing message to millions back on Earth by reading aloud the first ten verses of the Book of Genesis as they orbited the Moon. They were the first humans to see the entire Earth from outer space. As they spoke, television viewers saw unforgettable images of the Earth rising over the surface of the Moon. The crew of Apollo 8 concluded this historic event with the words: “good night, good luck, and a Merry Christmas. And God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”
As you gather with family and friends this holiday season, please take a moment to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas aside from the crowded shopping malls and exchanging of gifts. Remember in your prayers this holiday season our brave troops who are deployed around the world and unable to spend this holiday with their families, as well as those who are less fortunate here at home. On behalf of my wife and our two daughters, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season.