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Matinee: 'JFK Lights the National Christmas Tree' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

24 December 2016

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 167th in our series of Saturday matinees today: JFK Lights the National Christmas Tree.

"Pleased" might be overdoing it. We can't really remember the last time we felt, reading the news, pleased. And "happy" is not the first word that comes to mind to describe the new yaer.

So we decided to look back a few years to a presidency of another era that inspired the world. No, it really wasn't Camelot, we've come to learn, but if you didn't live through it, you may not appreciate how it called upon you to think about something greater than your own self interest.

You can only get a hint of that inspiration if you listen to the speeches. And we found one for you that, not incidentally, was delivered at the start of the Christmas season in 1962. John Kennedy's last Christmas.

The occasion was the lighting of the National Christmas Tree.

"For nearly two thousand years, the message of Christmas, the message of peace and good will towards all men, has been the guiding star of all our endeavors," he begins.

'We remind ourselves that man can and must live in peace with his neighbors and it is the peacemakers who are truly blessed.'

"It is the day when all of us dedicate our thoughts to others; when all are reminded that mercy and compassion are the enduring virtues; when all show, by small deeds and large and by acts, that it is more blessed to give than to receive," he continues.

It is on this day that "we remind ourselves that man can and must live in peace with his neighbors and it is the peacemakers who are truly blessed."

He is not tossing out platitudes, students of history will know. He had just in October taken the world through the Cuban missile crisis. For several days no one on this planet knew if Kennedy or Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, would back down from full-scale nuclear war.

But "reason ruled," Kennedy tells us just two months later.

"We have much yet to do. We still need to ask that God bless everyone. But yet I think we can enter this season of good will with more than usual joy in our hearts," he insisted.

Before he lit the tree, he placed himself in the company of his predecessors, a rung belong his own vice president. He began, in other words, with humility. Humility, which seems to have disappeared in this century, is a most beguiling thing.

You can hear the switch as he lights the tree and the slide show reveals, in black and white, the dark tree come to life in all its glory, a bright star at its top.

We came across this recording and slide show while considering quite a different show for this auspicious occasion.

You can read about it in Caroline Kennedy Dances in a Christmas Video, and Japan Can't Get Enough.

Caroline, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, is the daughter of JFK. She and her staff let their hair down for 93 seconds in the amusing video that speaks of a world quite different from the one in which the Cuban missile crisis took place.

It's a glimpse of the world we dreamed of in 1962. Just a peek at a better world, a peaceful world, a world of good will.

After all, as President Kennedy said in 1962, ""We have much yet to do."

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