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Public Papers - 1991

Remarks on Lighting the National Christmas Tree

1991-12-12

Welcome to this wonderful Washington tradition. And I am particularly proud tonight to have some very special friends here with us to help light our Nation's Christmas tree. America's prayers were answered when these men came home to us; so a special welcome to Terry Anderson and Madeleine Bassil. Here they are: Alann and Virginia Steen; and Thomas and Jean Sutherland; Joseph and Elham Cicippio; and Jesse and Badr Turner.

Have a great evening.

[At this point, the Christmas Pageant of Peace entertainment began.]

Well, thank you, Joe. Please be seated all of you, and it's good to see the Secretary of the Interior, so many other special guests here. And, of course, a warm thank you to Marilyn Horne; this marvelous Tucson Boys Chorus; the Navy Band; Joe Williams; our favorites, the Gatlin Brothers over here. And all the performers who brought the Christmas spirit to Washington tonight.

And thanks to Santa. His big night is coming up. And we don't have to ask this particular Santa, Willard Scott, what the weather's going to be like on Christmas Eve. He's predicting it. And he is right every once in a while. [Laughter]

This is a very special night. And I look over my shoulder here at the very special guests, the brave men who are with us here tonight. And on behalf of our loving country I say, finally, to Terry Anderson, to Tom Sutherland, Joseph Cicippio, and Alann Steen and Jesse Turner, and the others not here: Welcome home.

Welcome home, to this, the most generous and proud and free Nation on the face of the Earth. It is more than just appropriate, it is almost miraculous that we can celebrate with these five the lighting of our Nation's Christmas tree. The idea is so moving because these men have come out of darkness into the bright light of liberty. And as you hear these remarkable men talk, you realize they were never lost in that darkness of sorrow, anguish, and despair. Even at the worst moments, they were guided by a stubborn spark that cruelty could not extinguish, the spark of the human spirit.

Their precious gift to us is to rekindle our Nation's belief in the light of faith and our belief in ourselves. And when Terry and Tom and Joseph and Alann and Jesse light our Nation's tree tonight, that act will be a reminder of what they and their companions, living and gone, have already done to light our Nation's soul.

There have been special guests at these ceremonies before. Even Winston Churchill helped to light the tree during World War II, but this Nation has never been honored by the presence of men whose spirit meant more to all of us. Your fortitude, your humor, and generosity tell us the true meaning of this season. And at this time of year especially, these men remind us that the glitz and glamour of material things don't matter; the courage, the faith, and the love of these men embody, that they embody, are all we need to recognize what's really important.

The way they've returned to their families and to us proves they live by the challenge of that beautiful prayer of St. Francis, ``Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. Where there is despair, let us sow hope; where there is hatred, love; and where there is darkness, ever light.''

When history remembers Christmas 1991, let it remember that tonight we gathered with men who show us that this is a season of spirit, not a celebration of plenty.

Let history remember that tonight we stood with these two heroes and asked for God's blessing on this world. And finally, in the words of the carol we'll sing in a few minutes, let history remember that at Christmas 1991, this Nation united to give thanks to God and to ask God for peace on earth, goodwill to all.

God bless these five men, this wonderful country, and now I'd like to ask them to join me as we light the Nation's Christmas tree.

Note: The President spoke at 5:42 p.m. on the Ellipse during the annual Christmas Pageant of Peace. In his remarks, he referred to Joe Riley, president of the Christmas Pageant of Peace; Marilyn Horne, mezzo-soprano with the Metropolitan Opera; jazz singer Joe Williams; and country and western entertainers, the Gatlin Brothers. Television weatherman Willard Scott was dressed as Santa Claus. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

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