By Utah National Parks Council
Dec 22, 2014

Twelve Days of Christmas: A Scout is Brave

Roosevelt addresses the crowd at the Christmas tree lighting ceremony from the White House South Portico on December 24, 1941. Churchill can be seen on the right. (FDR Presidential Library)

Roosevelt addresses the crowd at the Christmas tree lighting ceremony from the White House South Portico on December 24, 1941. Churchill can be seen on the right. (FDR Presidential Library)

A Scout is Brave. A Scout can face danger although he is afraid. He has the courage to stand for what he thinks is right even if others laugh at him or threaten him.

As you share this story with your Scouts, talk about how Winston Churchill needed courage to risk his life to journey to America to meet with Roosevelt. Also discuss how others portrayed courage during this trying and frightening time. How can your Scouts be brave?

In the Dark Streets Shineth: A 1941 Christmas Eve Story

This wasn’t your average household tiff. The year was 1941, the argument occurred in the White House, the combatants were Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and the guests were British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his party …

pearl_posterJapan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor just three weeks earlier had thrust America into a world at war, and Churchill was determined that the United States should not focus its attention on the Pacific while Germany brutalized Europe.

So, with the half-hearted blessing of Roosevelt—who expressed concerns about the timing—Churchill made a clandestine 10-day trip across the Atlantic.

The visit would last far longer than a few days, but on Christmas, Churchill, the Roosevelts and the rest of the White House party sat down to oysters, clear soup, turkey, chestnut dressing with giblet gravy, beans and cauliflower, and sweet potato casserole.

[David] McCullough, in his book, “In the Dark Streets Shineth: A 1941 Christmas Eve Story,” tells of Churchill joining Roosevelt on a White House balcony for the ceremonial lighting of the National Christmas Tree. The two men also addressed a crowd of 20,000 on the White House lawn and a nationwide radio audience.

“Our strongest weapon in this war is that conviction of the dignity and brotherhood of man which Christmas Day signifies,” Roosevelt said.

Churchill, likewise, was mindful of the dramatic moment—but poignantly comfortable far from home.

“I spend this anniversary and festival far from my country, far from my family, yet I cannot truthfully say that I feel far from home. Whether it be the ties of blood on my mother’s side, or the friendships I have developed over her over many years of active life, or the commanding sentiment of comradeship in the common cause of great peoples who speak the same language, who kneel at the same altars, and to a very large extent, pursue the same ideals.”

white house tree lightingThe prime minister went on to say:

“This is a strange Christmas Eve. Almost the whole world is locked in deadly struggle, and, with the most terrible weapons which science can devise, the nations advance upon each other.”

Still, he said, it was entirely appropriate to pause to celebrate Christmas.

“Let the children have their night of fun and laughter,” he said. “Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play. Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern task and formidable years that lie before us, resolved that, by our sacrifice and daring, these same children shall not be robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a free and decent world.”

churchill and rooseveltThe next morning, Churchill and Roosevelt, surrounded by security men, attended a Christmas service at a nearby Methodist church.

During the service, the hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” written 75 years earlier by a Philadelphia pastor, was sung. Mr. McCullough said Churchill, who had never heard the carol before, fell in love with it and joined Roosevelt and the rest of the congregation in joyously singing it. The lyric, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight,” particularly resonated.

Later that day, the Christmas dinner became a State Dinner. The Roosevelts’ four sons were away, already in the service, and their daughter was in Seattle. They were joined at their holiday table by Churchill, the prince and princess of Norway, the British ambassador and his wife, and other British officials.

“Mr. Churchill and his party were delightful Christmas guests,” Mrs. Roosevelt recalled years later, “and they accepted with very good grace their inclusion in our family celebration when they must have missed their own.”

Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt give a joint press conference in the Oval Office of the White House, December 23, 1941. (FDR Presidential Library)

Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt give a joint press conference in the Oval Office of the White House, December 23, 1941. (FDR Presidential Library)

Churchill addressed a joint session of Congress on Dec. 26, delivering a speech that won over his staunchest critics. He would spend two more weeks in the United States, most of it at the White House, making plans with Roosevelt for the war.

“We live here as a big family in the greatest intimacy and formality,” Churchill said in a telegram home to Labour Party leader Clement Attlee, “and I have formed the very highest regard and admiration for the president.”

Mr. McCullough said Christmas 1941 at the White House was special, not only because of its historical accomplishment in setting the Allies on a course to win World War II.

“These two men also were human beings, moved by the emotions of the Christmas season, moved by the Christmas carols being sung by the people on the lawn,” Mr. McCullough said.

“It’s important to remember that while the present moment may be seem dark, may seem like a test of our courage, that particular Christmas was as dark a time as the free world ever experienced. And yet they lit the tree and sang the carols.”

photo posted on post-gazette.com
Author: Dan Majors | Staff writer Pittsburg Post Gazette
First Published December 25, 2011

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