Staff Columnist

Christmas is about peace, even for commanders-in-chief

Nancy Reagan. White House Christmas: President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan have a new guest for its first Christmas, their dog Lucky (a Bouvier des Flandres sheepdog), as it checks the gifts with the Reagans in front of the family quarters tree at the White House in Washington, D.C. December, 1984.
Nancy Reagan. White House Christmas: President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan have a new guest for its first Christmas, their dog Lucky (a Bouvier des Flandres sheepdog), as it checks the gifts with the Reagans in front of the family quarters tree at the White House in Washington, D.C. December, 1984.

American presidents over the past several decades have taken Christmas as an opportunity to deliver messages of hope to the American people. Whether or not their actions reflected it, their remarks often focus on peace, a fitting tribute to mark birth of the child who is called the Prince of Peace.

Calvin Coolidge started the tradition of a National Christmas Tree on the White House grounds, which continues to this day. His 1927 message asked Americans to seek peace throughout the year, not just during the holidays.

“Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas,” Coolidge wrote.


War and peace were heavy on Americans’ minds at Christmas in 1941 as the United States was preparing for significant involvement in World War II, just weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The gravity of the moment was evident in Franklin Roosevelt’s Christmas Eve address.

“Against enemies who preach the principles of hate and practice them, we set our faith in human love and in God’s care for us and all men everywhere,” Roosevelt said.

The nation enjoyed enormous prosperity after the war, but during Christmas 1949, Harry Truman reminded Americans that our neighbors around the globe still were struggling to rebuild their countries from the destruction of conflict.

“Let us not on this Christmas, in our enjoyment of the abundance with which providence has endowed us, forget those who, because of the cruelty of war, have no shelter — those multitudes for whom, in the phrase of historic irony, there is no room in the inn.”

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In 1961, as the United States was escalating the war in Vietnam, John F. Kennedy also focused on the prospect of international amity.

“For uncounted millions, Christmas expresses the deepest hopes for a world of peace where love rather than mistrust will flourish between neighbors,” Kennedy wrote in his message to U.S. troops.

During the Cold War, Ronald Reagan hosted Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in December 1987. Reagan delivered a pointed message at the tree-lighting ceremony, as Gorbachev was arriving in United States.

“I hope the General Secretary is watching this on TV. I’d like him to see what we’re celebrating, because for us, Christmas celebrates the cause of peace on Earth, good will toward men,” Reagan said in his speech.

President Donald Trump is not known for being tender or sentimental, but even he is carrying forth the presidential tradition of preaching peace for the holidays in his own unique way. In recent days, Trump announced the United States plans to withdraw thousands of troops from Syria and Afghanistan. As usual, the move was accompanied by several Twitter posts.

“Now we’ve won. It’s time to come back, they’re getting ready, you’re going to see them soon. These are great American heroes. These are great heroes of the world because they fought for us, but they’ve killed ISIS who hurts the world, and we’re are proud to have done it,” Trump said in a Twitter video announcing his Syria plans last week.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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