(Editor’s note: These are the remarks of President Lyndon B. Johnson at the lighting of the nation’s Christmas Tree in 1963):
Tonight we come to the end of the season of great national sorrow, and to the beginning of the season of great, eternal joy. We mourn our great President, John F. Kennedy, but he would have us go on. While our spirits cannot be light, our hearts need not be heavy.
We were taught by Him whose birth we commemorate that after death there is life. We can believe, and we do believe, that from the death of our national leader will come a rebirth of the finest qualities of our national life.
On this same occasion 30 years ago, at the close of another troubled year in our Nation’s history, a great President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, said to his countrymen, “To more and more of us the words ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’ have taken on a meaning that is showing itself and proving itself in our purposes and in our daily lives.”
I believe that this is no less true for all of us in all of our regions of our land today.
There is a turning away from things which are false and things which are small, and things which are shallow.
There is a turning toward those things which are true, those things which are profound, and those things which are eternal. We can, we do, live tonight in new hope and new confidence and new faith in ourselves and in what we can do together through the future.
Our need for such faith was never greater, for we are the heirs of a great trust. In these last 200 years we have guided the building of our Nation and our society by those principles and precepts brought to Earth nearly 2,000 years ago on that first Christmas.
We have our faults and we have our failings, as any mortal society must. But when sorrow befell us, we learned anew how great is the trust and how close is the kinship that mankind feels for us, and most of all, that we feel for each other. We must remember, and we must never forget, that the hopes and the fears of all the years rest with us, as with no other people in all history. We shall keep that trust working, as always we have worked, for peace on Earth and good will among men.
On this occasion a year ago, our beloved President John F. Kennedy reminded us that Christmas is the day when all of us dedicate our thoughts to others, when we are all reminded that mercy and compassion are the really enduring virtues, when all of us show, by small deeds and by large, that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
So in that spirit tonight, let me express to you as your President the one wish that I have as we gather here. It is a wish that we not lose the closeness and the sense of sharing, and the spirit of mercy and compassion which these last few days have brought for us all.
Let each American family – whatever their station, whatever their religion, whatever their race or their region – let each American family devote time to sharing with others something of themselves; yes, something of their very own. Let us, if we can do no more, lend a hand and share an hour, and say a prayer – and find some way with which to make this Christmas a prouder memory for what we gave instead of what we receive.