Proverbs 29:2 – “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; But when a wicked man rules, the people groan.” NKJV
I realize this vignette from American history might not seem like an appropriate devotional but if you can and will hear my heart I hope you will understand why I have chosen this message. The Birth of Christ is not just a historic event, a cause for national celebration but a paramount event for all mankind. Many argue over the specific date Jesus born and some argue that He was nothing more than a mythical creation of man. Those of us who believe the Bible and have received Christ as our Savior recognize the importance of His birth. We may celebrate the anniversary of that birth differently but it’s importance and preciousness is held by all believers.
Christmas before the 20th Century in the White House was not an official event. It was a private celebration by the sitting president where he and his family invited guests to celebrate with them. The Pilgrims and Puritans believed there was no precedent for a public celebration of Christmas and since the Bible gave no specific date for the birth of Christ they considered any celebration of that holiday ‘pagan’. Some still hold that view today. In Massachusetts, a law was passed in 1659 – “Whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas…shall pay for each offense five shillings as a fine to the country.” That law was repealed in 1681, but the holiday was still not celebrated publicly. As late as 1870 any student absent from school on Christmas Day faced suspension or expulsion for that offense. By the late 1880’s, Christmas had become an accepted practice even in New England.
Christmas Trees did not become fixtures in the White House until 1889 introduced by President Benjamin Harrison. In 1895, First Lady Frances Cleveland hung lights on the tree. In 1901-1909 President Teddy Roosevelt banned Christmas trees from the White House for environmental reason, but in 1923 President Calvin Coolidge started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, which continues to this day. In 1929, First Lady Lou Henry Hoover began the custom of decorating an official tree in the White House, not just a personal one, a tradition continued by all First Ladies since. In 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower sought out Hallmark Cards to assist him in creating a presidential Christmas Card, the beginning of the White House Christmas Card. In 1961, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of Christmas themes and in 1963, the first Christmas card that contained an explicitly religious element was the Kennedy Christmas card, featuring a photo of a nativity scene set up in the East Room of the White House. The Kennedy’s signed 30 cards before their final trip to Dallas and none of them were ever mailed. The National Christmas Tree that year was not lit until December 22nd because of a 30-day period of mourning following President Kennedy’s assassination. In 1979, the National Christmas Tree was not lighted except for the top ornament in honor of the American hostages in Iran. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan authorized the first official White House ornament, and copies were made available for public purchase. In 1984, the Nativity Scene was allowed to return to the Pageant of Peace. In 2001, the first White House Christmas card to contain a Scripture was chosen by First Lady Laura Bush with a quotation from Psalm 27, “Thy face, Lord, do I seek. I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living.”
President George & Martha Washington held formal receptions as well as festivities at Mt. Vernon which started at daybreak with a fox hunt and a mid-day feast that included Christmas Pie and Dancing and sometimes lasted for a full week. President Andrew & Rachel Jackson had private Christmas celebrations and in 1834 the celebration included games, dancing, a grand dinner, and ended with an indoor snowball fight with specially made cotton-balls. President Abraham & Mary Todd Lincoln in 1861 ministered to the wounded at Campbell’s and Douglas hospitals and in 1863, Tad Lincoln accompanied his father to the hospitals and the loneliness of the wounded soldiers inspired him to send books and clothing to the soldiers signed “From Tad Lincoln.” President Herbert Hoover’s message to the Nation’s Christmas Tree Association was “Your annual Christmas held at the foot of a living tree antedating the birth of Christ, is a dramatic and inspiring event of national interest. It symbolized and vivifies our greatest Christian festival with its eternal message of unselfishness, joy, and peace.” President Franklin & Elanor Roosevelt included a Christmas message of Christ, Love, Peace, and Hope. President Harry & Bess Truman always offered a strong Christian message in their Christmas Cards and messages to the nation.
What is my point? Simply that America was founded as a nation that recognized the hand and providence of God in our beginning which is evidenced in our founding documents, our laws, and has been traditionally recognized by President after President. As Americans, we need to rekindle the Spirit of Christmas and return to our roots if we are to impact the world positively as God desires and we are able.
As you prepare for your Christmas celebration(s) I pray that the Lord will rekindle in you that Spirit of Love that brought about the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ and may Christmas reign in your hearts every day of the year! May God, bless you richly is my prayer and MERRY CHRISTMAS is my wish!