Out and About (Sort of): White House Messages Give Us Pause by Howard Freedlander

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Often times, others’ words carry more meaning than ours. I thought, therefore, that Christmas messages issued over the years by some of our U.S. Presidents might be appropriate for this column.

Amid World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who began the tradition of Christmas words for the nation, said on Dec. 24, 1944, “…sad and anxious thoughts will be continually with the millions of our loved ones who are suffering hardships and misery, and who are risking their very lives to preserve for us and for all mankind the fruits of His teachings and the foundations of civilization itself.” The scourge of Adolph Hitler was coming to an end.

During a time of peace and prosperity, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, lighting the National Community Christmas Tree on Dec. 24, 1953, said: “Tonight, richly endowed in the good things of the earth, in the fellowship of our neighbors and the love of our families, would it not be fitting for each of us to speak in prayer to the Father of all men and women on this earth, of whatever nation, and of every race and creed—to ask that He help us—and teach us—and strengthen us—and receive our thanks.”

Again during war, President Lyndon B. Johnson, in a Christmas message to Americans in Vietnam on Dec. 23, 1964, said, “In every generation the burden of protecting liberty has fallen to a few stouthearted men. We Americans celebrate this holy season because our forebears had the courage, the determination, the will to sacrifice, that was equal to the challenges before them.’

In his Christmas message on Dec. 24, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford struck a decidedly upbeat tone during a period of political turmoil when he said: “The spirit of Christmas is ageless, irresistible and knows no barriers. It reaches out to add a glow to the humblest of homes and the stateliest of mansions. It catches up saint and sinner alike in its warm embrace. It is the season to be jolly—but to be silent and prayerful as well.”

President Ronald Reagan, speaking to the nation on Dec. 23, 1981, about Christmas and the uprising in Poland, said: “Some celebrate Christmas as the birthday of a great and good philosopher and teacher. Others of us believe in the divinity of the child born in Bethlehem, that he was and is the promised Prince of Peace. Yes, we’ve questioned why he who could perform miracles chose to come among us as a helpless babe, but maybe that was his first miracle, his first great lesson that we should learn to care for another.”

On Dec. 20, 1995, in observance of Christmas, President Bill Clinton said about the Christmas story: “…This Child was born into poverty in a city too crowded to offer Him shelter. He was sent to a region whose people had endured suffering, tyranny, and exile. And yet this Child brought with Him riches so great that they continue to sustain the human spirit two thousand years later: the assurance of God’s love and presence in our lives and the promise of salvation.”

In his weekly address on Dec. 25, 2010, President Barack Obama said, “This is the season when we celebrate the simplest yet most profound gift of all: the birth of a child who devoted his love to a message of peace, love, and redemption. A message that says no matter who we are, we are called to love one another—we are our brother’s keeper, we are our sister’s keeper, our separate stories in this big and busy world are really one.”

I omitted some Presidential messages only for lack of space. By citing these powerful messages, I mean no offense to those who practice religions other than Christianity. I believe, however, that the underlying themes–of gratitude for those risking their lives in foreign combat, of charity and love for those less fortunate than we, of unity and comity among people of all races and creeds and of respect and admiration for those strong in spirit but lacking in material possessions–encompass all religions and beliefs.

As my family and I prepare for a joyous and fulfilling holiday season, I find the words of U.S. presidents compelling. They carry universal sentiments.

They give me pause.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

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