Look Back at the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony Through the Years

The annual lighting of the National Christmas Tree has offered presidents an opportunity to work off the holiday theme and deliver a unifying message of peace. Over the years, some presidents — in the middle of war or national tragedy — have used the ceremony to deliver a deeper message. Take a look at past ceremonies.

01 of 09

1924: President Calvin Coolidge

President Calvin Coolidge and First Lady Grace at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree
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While other presidents have gone on to use the tree lighting as an opportunity to share a message of peace and national pride, Coolidge was brief in the second-ever ceremony.

"I accept this tree and I will now light it," he said, arriving at the ceremony and returning to the White House in some 15 minutes.

02 of 09

1939: President Franklin D. Roosevelt

President Franklin D. Roosevelt
AP

On Christmas Eve in 1939, Roosevelt lit the tree while denouncing war in an ominous speech as the world was on the cusp of a second global conflict.

He said 1939 was a year filled "with dread of evil things to come" and closed his speech with a warning of "the horror of another war adding its toll of anguish to a world already bowed under the burden of suffering laid upon it by man's inhumanity to man."

03 of 09

1941: President Roosevelt

Franklin Roosevelt at the white house xmas
Universal History Archive/Universal Images

Weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, which would hasten the U.S.' involvement in World War II, President Roosevelt delivered another speech on the importance of American values in the fight against evil.

“Our strongest weapon against this war is the conviction of the dignity and brotherhood of man which Christmas Day signifies — more than any other day or any other symbol," he said. “Against enemies who preach the principles of hate and practise them, we set our faith in human love and in God’s care for us and all men everywhere.”

British Prime Minister Winston Churchhill was also in attendence and gave a speech. “Let the children have their night of fun and laughter," he said. "Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play. Let us grownups share to the full in their unstinted pleasure, before we turn again to the stern tasks and formidable year that lie before us.”

The national tree would not be lit again until after the war, in 1945.

04 of 09

1946: President Harry Truman

President Truman
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Truman called for peace at the resumed lighting ceremony. He asked Americans to "strive with undaunted faith and courage to achieve in the present some measure of that unity with which the Nation's sons and the sons of our allies went forth to win the war."

05 of 09

1967: President Lyndon Johnson

President Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson, and Yuki, the White House pet, pose beside the family Christmas tree in Washington, a Norway spruce. Yuki takes a stand atop some of the family Christmas gifts arranged under the tree. The President returned from his round-the-world journey. The setting is in the Yellow Oval Room in the second floor of the White House Presidential Pets 1967, Washington, USA
AP/Shutterstock

In his 1967 lighting ceremony speech, Johnson spoke about "scientific breakthroughs, the tragedy of war, and hope for peace," while paying homage to 500,000 Americans who had lost someone from their family in war.

Four years prior, Johnson lit the national tree just weeks after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

"Today we come to the end of a 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," he said then. "While our spirits cannot be light, our hearts need not be heavy."

06 of 09

1983: President Ronald Reagan

President Ronald Reagan
Al Levine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Reagan lit the national tree under the theme of "hope," alongside members of the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and the cast of the 1982 movie Annie.

07 of 09

2001: President George W. Bush

Bush lighting the Christmas tree
STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP via Getty Images

After the Sept. 11 attacks shook the nation a few months earlier, President Bush used the 2001 lighting ceremony to talk about the hope of peace even as American forces embarked on a Middle East military campaign that remains ongoing, nearly two decades later

"This season finds our country with losses to mourn and great tasks to complete," he said then. "America seeks peace, and believes in justice. We fight only when necessary. We fight so that oppression may cease. And even in the midst of war, we pray for peace on Earth and goodwill to men."

08 of 09

2016: President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama tree lighting
Paul Morigi/Getty Images

Obama lit the National Christmas Tree for the final time in his eight-year tenure as the nation's leader. Three weeks after Donald Trump's surprise victory, Obama used his speech to talk about commond ground.

"After eight years as your president, I still believe that there’s so much more that unites us than divides us," he said. "I’ve seen it in parents from every corner of this country just trying to give their kids a better shot. I’ve seen it in communities that come together and find common ground even in times of trial and times of tragedy. We see it in immigrants and refugees striving for that most American of ideals — to better ourselves and our families."

09 of 09

2019: President Donald Trump

Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Trump, joined by First Lady Melania Trump, put on a happy face this year to light the National Christmas Tree amid a tense political week with his impeachment looming in Congress.

Trump led the crowd at President’s Park in a countdown before the tree was lit up in a bevy of white lights, including white stars dotted across the massive tree.

In his brief remarks, Trump invoked the story of the Three Wise Men who visited Baby Jesus in Bethlehem as told in the New Testament.

“More than 2,000 years ago, a brilliant star shone in the East,” the president said, per CNN. “Wise men traveled far, far, afield — I mean they were a long distance away — and they came and they stood with us under the star, where they found the holy family in Bethlehem. As the Bible tells us, when the wise men had come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary, his mother, and fell down and worshiped him.”

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