FDR lights the National Christmas Tree
FDR Lighting the National Christmas Tree (photo from 1941) – Yuletide season was official.

FDR Lights The National Christmas Tree – Dec. 24, 1935 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection

FDR lights the National Christmas Tree, on Christmas Eve 1935. A national ritual since 1923, it was President Roosevelt’s third Christmas celebration in the White House.

The country was slowly digging out from one of the worst depressions in its history. There were rumors of a growing concern with Germany and Italy and their increased military strength. Japan was eyeing China was a degree of malice. Spain was experiencing unrest, which could spill over to Civil War. And the world was generally a place of tenuous calm.

But it was Christmas, and a time to celebrate. And even in uncertain times, the worries over the coming months weren’t happening on this day, and the break was welcomed.

In what started out as a simple ceremony in 1923, grew over time to become a major national event. Over the years the actual placement of the tree changed as well as the size of the tree. At one point, to even having 50 individual trees, representing the states of the Union as well as a parade, known as Pageant Of Peace and a Nativity scene as well as a Menorah. The ceremony takes well over an hour, but in 1935 it took all of 5 minutes.

But the basic ceremony is the same, as it was on December 24, 1935, when President Roosevelt addressed the nation from the porch facing the South Lawn and pulled the switch, illuminating the tree, signaling the official start of the Christmas Season.

Here is that lighting ceremony, as it was heard all over the country on Christmas Eve, 1935.

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