Many of the traditional customs we’ve come to observe during the holiday season, like decorating our homes and sending Christmas cards, were uncommon practices in the early years of our country. Before the 19th century, most Americans worked on Christmas. For generations, it was treated just like any other day.
During Abraham Lincoln’s service in the Illinois state legislature, years before he would become president, Lincoln was asked to vote on allowing elected officials to take off work on Christmas Day. He voted against the measure because he felt he’d be wasting taxpayer money if he took the day off.
Around the time of Lincoln’s presidency, sending an official Christmas card from the White House was an unheard of practice. It wasn’t until late Christmas Eve, after the children were asleep, that decorations were even used. The typical décor consisted of simple evergreen boughs, holly, mistletoe and garland. It was not until 1870, when President Ulysses Grant signed the law that made December 25 a federal holiday, that Christmas began to take on a larger significance in Americans’ lives.
Like Grant, other presidents have played a large role in establishing American Christmas traditions that we look forward to each year. Beginning the tradition of decorating a White House Christmas tree is credited to President Benjamin Harrison, who in 1889 gathered with his family in the second-floor Oval Room of the White House, now called the Blue Room, and stood around a tree decorated with glass ornaments, toy soldiers and candles.
President Calvin Coolidge was the first to truly extend a White House Christmas celebration to the American people. During his first Christmas in the White house in 1923, he initiated the tradition of the National Community Christmas Tree, a 48-foot Balsam Fir from his native state of Vermont that was erected on The Ellipse. An electric button enabled the President to light the tree on demand for the first ever National Community Christmas Tree lighting ceremony.
After receiving countless requests to address the American people with a Christmas message, Coolidge finally agreed in 1927. On Christmas morning, a short hand-written message from the President appeared in every major newspaper, making it the first Christmas greeting to be given to the American public from a president.
Since then, American presidents have kept the Christmas traditions alive in their own way, some inciting controversy such as President Obama’s first Christmas card from the White House that lacked any mention of the word Christmas. But even still, this most sacred holiday remains a steadfast beacon in our nation of peace and harmony.
The holiday season throws into sharp relief our country’s desperate need for harmony. Amid an atmosphere of division that permeated America following the Civil War, President Grant helped unite the country by making Christmas a nationally-recognized holiday.
More than a hundred years later, our country again finds itself in the middle of an internal struggle. Political parties are exceedingly polarized, and struggles within the Republican Party have fractured our own conservative unity.
The unemployment rate refuses to budge, and thousands of people have been without work for so long they’re forgetting the basic skills of their trade.
It’s incumbent upon us during this time of peace and goodwill to remember that we must stand united if we hope to return our country to its former glory. This Christmas, let’s start a new tradition of rebuilding the values that make this country great, like the strength of family, the importance of hard work and the principles of limited government.
Together, we can restore our quality of life.
I wish you and your family all the best for a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year!
Sen. Chip Pearson serves as chairman of the Economic Development Committee. He represents the 51st Senate District, which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Pickens and Union counties and portions of Forsyth and White counties. He may be reached at (404) 656-9221 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.