December 11, 1986

Well, to all of you at the White House, to all those listening on the Ellipse, and to the millions more joining us this evening by way of radio and television: Good evening, and welcome to the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. A special word of greeting to some special people with me here at the White House, members of the Washington, DC, Big Brothers and Big Sisters programs. In these programs, grownups give of their time to youngsters, each adult getting together regularly with a boy or girl -- a little brother or a sister -- taking him or her to the park or zoo, or on a camping trip, or maybe just answering questions about life. My friends, I can't tell you how honored Nancy and I are to welcome you here this evening to this, the home that belongs to all Americans. For in this Christmas season, you remind us all of the greatest gift we can give to each other is the gift of ourselves.

Now, my friends, beyond the White House lawn -- South Lawn, across the street on the Ellipse, in the darkness, there stands a tall shaggy shape -- our National Christmas Tree. In a moment Byron Whyte will join Nancy and me in pressing the button, and that dark shape will come alive, blazing with color and light. But before we light the tree, let's just talk for a moment about why Christmas trees have become such an important part of the Christmas celebration.

For some Christmas just marks the birth of a great philosopher and prophet, a great and good man. To others, it marks something still more: the pinnacle of all history, the moment when the God of all creation -- in the words of the creed, God from God and light from light -- humbled himself to become a baby crying in a manger. To everyone Christmas is a time of happiness and cheer, a time of peace and good will and glad tidings.

And this brings us to the custom of the Christmas tree. For the ancestors from whom we inherited this Christmas tree believed that the glad tidings of Christmas were of such power, of such beauty and life-giving force, that they affected not only the human heart but extended to all creation. And in decorating trees, Christmas trees, they expressed their belief that on one special day of the year nature itself seems to join the angel choirs and little children and all mankind in a great and solemn celebration. The song puts it so well: ``O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, your boughs can teach a lesson. That constant faith and hope sublime, lend strength and comfort through all time.''

Well, I've spoken long enough for a wintry evening like this. It's time to push the button used by every President since Calvin Coolidge in lighting our National Christmas Tree. And Nancy and Byron, let's see if we can't turn this cold dark evening into one of light and warmth.

All right. Push the light.

Note: The President spoke at 5:45 p.m. in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House during the annual Christmas Pageant of Peace. Eight-year-old Byron Whyte of Prince Georges County, MD, a participant in the Big Brothers program, helped light the tree.