Radio Address to the Nation on the Holiday Season and the Earthquake in Armenia

 

December 24, 1988

 

My fellow Americans:

 

Tomorrow is a day for celebration: celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Joy envelops us, as it must have enveloped our ancestors 1,988 years ago when unto us a Child was born. Our joy comes this happy season -- featuring Hanukkah as well -- not merely from the family dinner at which we come together nor just in the delight that a small child takes in all the sounds and smells and sights and a gift. It's not simply the crackle of a fire, the tinsel on the tree, and the annual viewing of ``It's a Wonderful Life.'' Yes, all these things are joyous, indeed, but this is also a time for prayer, a time for us to count our myriad blessings and reflect upon the joy that is ours every day of every year.

 

Because of the common stresses and strains of everyday life, we may be forgiven for forgetting from time to time all that God has given us. One child has a fever; another is grumpy; a third is asking why is the sky blue, and all the while there are bills to pay and a roof that leaks. Sometimes it all seems a little too much, and at these moments we look back with longing to a time when our responsibilities did not seem so large. But this season those responsibilities are revealed for what they truly are: the God-given blessings that give our lives flavor and meaning. And the more responsibilities of this kind we have, the greater are our blessings. For in this way we're indeed made in the image of our Lord: At our best, our capacity to love seems inexhaustible. We know at this time of year that all we must do is give of ourselves, and in return we shall receive all that we have given and much, much more.

 

We know that there are those among us for whom the holidays are painful and lonely. I know you join with me in hoping that this year they will take heart and have faith. For the message of this most joyous holiday is that we are all -- no matter what divides us -- we are all loved by a force greater than ourselves, a love that surpasseth all understanding, a love that provides all the answers for those who feel lost and alone during these remarkable days. We are not alone; we're never alone.

 

Now, here in our country, there are children, without homes, suffering from dire diseases, whose Christmases will be makeshift at best. But the miracle of human generosity can and does transform the holidays for them. This year, as in years past, your generosity has been breathtaking. Programs like Toys for Tots and literally tens of thousands of local initiatives are examples of this nation's determination to give all children a sense of what the Christmas spirit is and what it can mean for them.

 

I know all Americans have joined with me in grieving for those who perished in the Armenian earthquake. Tragedies of this nature afflict our spirit; it's hard to see why such a thing happens, what it might mean. But the Armenian people are showing us they know they are loved. They know they can renew their strength and rebuild and rededicate themselves to life.

 

We have been witness to the breathtaking bravery of the people of Leninakan and Spitak as they ready themselves for the task of going on. And, yes, they will go on, for the Armenian people are made of hardy stuff. As Hazel Barsamian, an American of Armenian descent, says, and I quote: ``We have a history of this kind of tragedy. We are fighters. We are survivors. We stand together, and we will survive.''

 

And at a time of such terrible calamity, something happens in the world, something worth thinking about at Christmastime. For a time, the real differences that divide us -- and will continue to divide us -- fall away. Closed borders open. Friends and enemies alike share the burden and hope to help. From Israel and war-torn Lebanon alike, supplies and aid have been sent to Soviet Armenia. And from the United States the response has been staggering: relief workers, tens of millions of dollars in private contributions, food, clothing, a cascade of good will and fellow feeling. Christmas is the time of the Prince of Peace, and we are therefore reminded yet again that our differences are not with common people but with political systems.

 

In Armenia the birth of our Lord is not celebrated until January 6th. It is an Armenian tradition that priests travel to the homes of their flock and there make a special blessing with bread, water, and salt, representing life and substance. This season, more than ever, may the blessings of the priests over the bread and water and the salt provide the Armenian people with the strength to persevere and triumph.

 

Nancy joins me in wishing all of you a safe, sound, and, of course, a very Merry Christmas! Until next week, thanks for listening, and may God bless you.

 

Note: The President recorded the address on December 22 in the Oval Office at the White House for broadcast at 12:06 p.m. on December 24.