December 24, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – President Donald Trump was introduced by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke at the 2018 lighting of the National Christmas Tree as the “man who brought Christmas back to America.”
It’s a big claim to make. Can it possibly be true?
Left-leaning media often like to take advantage of claims like this, mocking those who try to cast Trump as if he were the lead role in “Ernest Saves Christmas,” as Vanity Fair put it.
When Trump campaigned in 2016 on the promise that America was going to start saying “Merry Christmas” again, his critics accurately pointed out with video evidence that Obama had never actually stopped saying “Merry Christmas.”
When, after Trump’s inauguration, conservatives began celebrating what they saw as the new president’s overthrowing of the “War on Christmas,” they were soundly mocked for thinking there had been a war in the first place.
This leads to the big question: Did Christmas really leave America under Obama and his administration? Has Trump really brought Christmas “back”?
The only way to go about answering this question is to compare how the two presidents have commemorated Christmas. There are no better examples of this than the presidential addresses at the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremonies and the annual White House Christmas Cards. What messages about Christmas have Obama and Trump conveyed on these occasions?
Obama’s National Christmas Tree Lighting addresses
Barack Obama gave his first address at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree in 2009.
He did indeed say “Merry Christmas” at the beginning and end of his address, a phrase he included in all of his future tree lighting addresses. When speaking in particular about why Americans celebrate Christmas, he highlighted the “story of a child born far from home to parents guided only by faith.” This child would grow up, he said, to “ultimately spread a message that has endured for more than 2,000 years, that no matter who we are or where we are from, we are each called to love one another as brother and sister.”
While these are pleasant sounding words, they do not capture what Christmas is essentially about. What is Christmas essentially about? The angels said it best to the shepherds with their “tidings of great joy,” as recorded in the Gospel of Luke (2:11): “For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
The keyword here is “savior.”
Christianity holds that mankind needs to be saved from sin and its consequence, eternal death. Jesus, the God who became man, is the one who saves. This is the “good news” the angels tell the shepherds. And since men and women today are still sinners who need a savior, this good news is as relevant today as it was 2018 years ago. This why Christians around the world continue to celebrate Christmas and will do so until the end of the world.
So, getting back to what Obama said in his first Christmas address as president, from a Christian perspective, he basically botched the whole affair. He failed to speak about what Christmas is really about. Not only did he not say the word “savior,” but he also failed to say the words “Jesus” or “Christ.”
Obama failed, moreover, to quote from Scripture during his entire address, a trend he continued for the following seven addresses that he delivered at this event.
In 2010, he basically repeated the theme of 2009, mentioning a “child” born “far from home.” This time, however, he noted that this child was to “spread a simple message of love and redemption to every human being around the world.” While this mention of “redemption” is more on target in reference to Christmas, there’s still no mention of Savior, Jesus, or Christ. In 2011, Obama added a little more detail, mentioning the “stable” and “Christ’s birth” that “made the angels rejoice and attracted shepherds and kings from afar.” The child “grew up to become a leader with a servant’s heart who taught us a message as simple as it is powerful: that we should love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves.”
In other words, the “child” grows up to be a great moral teacher with a powerful message, but certainly not a “savior.” Obama’s conception of the mission of this child, the reason he was born, is vastly different from what Christianity holds.
In 2012, Obama praised “Christ” for teaching that “it is truly more blessed to give than to receive.” No mention of him being a savior. In 2013, Obama praised Nelson Mandela as a “man who championed that generosity of spirit.” He did not mention Jesus by name. He again mentioned the “birth of a child” in a “stable” who “assumed a mighty voice, teaching us lessons of compassion and charity that have lasted more than two millennia.” He again portrays Christ as some great moral teacher, but there’s no mention of him as a savior.
More of the same in 2014 and 2015. He mentions the birth of a “singular child” who would “grow up to live a life of humility, and kindness, and compassion; who traveled with a message of empathy and understanding.” “Jesus” is mentioned once in Obama’s 2015 address as a man who taught moral “lessons” that are the “bedrock values of all faiths.” In other words, for Obama, there’s nothing really unique in Christ’s message: it’s just that this man we’re celebrating happens to have practiced what he preached more than others.
In 2016, his last year of giving the address, Obama finally mentions the phrase “birth of our Savior.” But, he uses the title “Savior” in a meaningless way, saying that the main “message that this child brought to this Earth some 2,000 years ago” is not one of salvation, but one of “love,” “unity,” “decency,” and “hope.”
Trump’s National Christmas Tree Lighting addresses
Donald Trump gave his first address at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree in 2017.
He began and ended his address, as Obama did in his tree lighting addresses, by wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas.” But the similarities between the two messages stop here.
Trump called Christmas a “Holy season” where Christians celebrate the “birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Unlike Obama, Trump managed to mention in one sentence in his first address the words “Savior” and “Jesus” and “Christ.”
Trump goes on, praising Jesus who “forever changed the course of human history.”
Whatever our beliefs, we know that the birth of Jesus Christ and the story of this incredible life forever changed the course of human history. There’s hardly an aspect of our lives today that his life has not touched: art, music, culture, law, and our respect for the sacred dignity of every person everywhere in the world.
Each and every year at Christmas time we recognize that the real spirit of Christmas is not what we have, it's about who we are – each one of us is a child of God.
That is the true source of joy this time of the year.
That is what makes every Christmas ‘merry.’
Trump hits a key truth of the Christian faith here, namely that it’s because of the birth of Jesus Christ that people can become adopted sons and daughters of God, which, indeed, is the source of not only Christmas joy, but any form of Christian joy.
Trump’s remarks here suggest that he accurately understands what Christmas is essentially about and why Christians celebrate it. Jesus is not simply the great moral leader, as Obama portrayed him to be, but a “Savior” who connects mankind with God and who has “forever” changed the world.
In his 2018 address, Trump returned to his theme of Christmas being a “sacred season” because of the birth of “Jesus Christ.” This year, he quoted a large passage of Scripture, something Obama never did in his entire eight years of addresses at this same event.
It is worth quoting Trump at length.
For Christians all across our nation, around the world, this is a sacred season that begins 2,000 years ago when Jesus Christ was born.
An angel declared to the shepherds tending their flocks, “Behold, I bring you good tidings, great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is a born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” (Applause.)
There in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph held in their hands the Son of God; the light of the world; and, through Him, the promise of eternal salvation.
Trump makes it clear that Christmas is the celebration of Jesus Christ as the “son of God” who is the “light of the world” and who brings “eternal salvation.” Again, this is essentially what Christmas is all about.
So, how does Obama’s treatment of Christmas in his tree lighting addresses compare with Trump’s? For Obama, Christmas is about honoring a great moral “leader” who brings a message of peace and love that everyone can understand and should imitate.
For Trump, Christmas is about celebrating the “savior” of the world who offers “eternal salvation” and who reveals to men and women their true dignity, namely, that each is called to be a “child of God.”
Whose message is more Christian and thus more on target regarding what Christmas is all about? In this case, clearly Trump is the winner.
Has Trump brought back the true meaning of Christmas to America as witnessed in his Christmas tree lighting addresses? The answer is a definitive “yes.”
White House Christmas Cards
The Obamas never used the word “Christmas” on any of their eight Christmas cards from 2009 to 2016. In 2009, the Obamas’ Christmas card said “Season’s Greetings.” During other years, the cards frequently used the word “holiday.”
“During their first year in the executive mansion, the President and First Lady Michelle Obama’s selection of their White House Christmas card caused some controversy in that there was no mention of the word ‘Christmas’ anywhere on the front or inside of their card,” states the website White House Christmas Cards.
There was also no printing of a biblical passage on the Obama cards, as there was on White House Christmas cards for each year sent out by George W. and Laura Bush, continues the site.
The Trump family’s first presidential Christmas card said “Merry Christmas” in swirling gold letters. And, for this year's greeting card, the Trumps replicated the same greeting, wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”
The fact that Obama’s cards never once mentioned the word “Christmas” while Trump’s have mentioned the word twice in two years strongly suggests that Trump is, in fact, bringing something back to America that was shoved aside in the previous administration.
On top of the Christmas tree lighting addresses and the Christmas Cards, there’s also the White House Christmas decorations that are indicative of how Trump has brought Christmas back to America.
The Obama administration, according to the New York Times, considered in 2009 whether to have a “non-religious” Christmas at the White House, which included a thought of whether to display the official White House nativity crèche. In the end, tradition won out, and the crèche was placed in its usual spot and continued to be a part of Obama’s White House Christmas for the rest of his time in office.
This is in stark contrast to Christmas at the White House under Trump where the crèche has been prominently featured in promotional videos about the White House Christmas decorations both years (here and here). There was no question regarding whether or not the crèche had been put on display (such questions arose during Obama’s time in office) because it was prominently featured in the videos.
‘Reason for the season’
In the end, I think Secretary Zinke is right that Trump is the “man who brought Christmas back to America.”
And what kind of Christmas did he bring back? It’s a real Christmas that’s centered on Our Savior Jesus Christ, who’s the “reason for the season,” as the jingle goes.
There are many people who are skeptical about Trump’s Christian faith, calling into question his supposed conversion that allegedly happened not too long before his jump into politics.
Trump himself is aware of the skepticism: “I think people are shocked when they find out that I am Christian, that I am a religious person,” he wrote in Great Again, which was published during the 2016 presidential campaign. “They see me with all the surroundings of wealth, so they sometimes don’t associate that with being religious. That’s not accurate,” he added.
No matter what one might think of Trump with all his flaws and failings, it must be said of him, in the words of Charles Dickens speaking of the converted Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, that he “knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”
For Trump, keeping “Christmas well” comes across in his Christmas Tree lighting addresses and his Christmas Cards.
Keeping Christmas well – “May that be truly said of us, and all of us!” writes Dickens.
Yes, indeed. And may Christians far and wide boldly throw off political correctness and wish everyone a “Merry Christmas,” telling everyone that it's Jesus who put the “Christ” in Christmas.
And may we all be like Tiny Tim, and wish God’s blessings on everyone during this holy season: “God bless us, Every one!”
A merry and holy Christmas to you and yours!
From your Associate Editor at LifeSiteNews, Pete Baklinski