The Chief Historian for the White House Historical Association has completed a fine essay on the Coolidges and the White House during their stay, 1923-1929. As Mr. Bushong points out, “Throughout the Coolidge administration, Christmas celebrations were a mix of traditional family gatherings and the new community centered public ceremony” centered in the lighting of the community tree on the Ellipse. It was Coolidge who inaugurated that signature custom. Originally for the families and other residents of the District of Columbia, it has become a National Event.
Christmas Day was spent by the Coolidges giving of their time and service to those in need, from the preparation of food baskets at the Salvation Army to visiting the veterans at Walter Reed Hospital. Coolidge once said, “No person was ever honored by what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.” The Coolidges lived that ideal.
While the lighting of the community tree was then a local highlight, the real focus at the Coolidge White House during Christmas came with the singing of carols. Singing and the music of the Marine Band were central to Christmas night with the Coolidges. In 1924, a new carol, “Christmas Bells” was composed by Jason Noble Pierce, the pastor of the Congregational Church in D.C., and dedicated to Grace Coolidge. “Ring, ye, Christmas bells of peace. Ring for days when wars shall cease.” That same night, the 1880 choral piece, “The Angel’s Song at Bethlehem” (setting the account of Luke 2:8-14 to music) was sung and heard from the North Portico of the White House by the thousands gathered there. It was the facts of Christ’s coming, His work, and His living again that made peace and goodwill possible, the Coolidges knew, as the hymn goes,
“Glory to God in the highest!
“And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!
“Glory to God!”