“Do presidents ever feel bad for having so much stuff at Christmas when some people have nothing?”

Last week, students from a 6th grade Social Studies class in Texas took to Twitter to ask us about Christmas at the White House. The question above merited a longer response than 280 characters, and Corey Carr,  Museum Technician at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, found an example from Christmastime in 1980. Here is his response to the students at Krueger Middle School:

It is easy to imagine that Presidents do feel sorrow for having such abundance when others have so little. Some run for office simply to improve the lives of others. Some Presidents, such as Jimmy Carter, the 39th President, had humble beginnings.  President Carter, like other Presidents, recognized this disparity and used their authority and power to ease the suffering of others. He spoke about his humble beginnings just before lighting the White House Christmas tree in 1980: “My background is as a farmer and farmers have to have a lot of faith in order to keep on every year, planting a crop, not having control over what’s going to happen next.“

During this speech many Americans were being held hostage in Iran and subsequently were separated from their families during the holiday. President Carter recognized the hostages when he asked their families if they wished all the tree lights turned on or just the single Star of Hope on top of the White House tree. The families responded by saying they wanted to wait until all the hostages were home before the main lights of the tree were lit. In the meantime the hostage’s families wished simply for the Star of Hope to burn brightly until their loved ones safe return.

Whether it is securing peace in the Middle East or eradicating disease in Africa, Jimmy Carter is an example of how someone from humble beginnings can better their lives and chose to then use their success in service of others. He understands that the real meaning of Christmas and life itself is not objects but rather people. Helping others, spending time together with loved ones, recalling fond times, and making new memories are what is important. Jimmy Carter epitomized this sentiment once by saying: 

“I have one life and one chance to make it count for something… My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.“ 

This Christmas let us understand that we all have the power to make a positive change, however small, in the lives of others whatever our circumstances. That is the greatest gift we can offer ourselves and the world. What can you do for others?

Image: President Jimmy Carter at the Christmas Pageant of Peace, 12/18/80.