Mr. BOB SCHAFFER. Mr. Speaker, soon, the presidential staff will be busy readying the White House for Christmas. The annual lighting of the national Christmas tree is an event punctuated in Washington, DC by the official White House Christmas party.
My wife Maureen and I decided to attend last year and find out for ourselves what it's like at the executive residence. The splendor of the White House, decked with adornments of the season, seemed to dwarf the partisan divisions of politics and reminded guests of the historical significance of Christmas in America.
One of the most compelling American Christmastide stories took place during the Revolutionary War in 1777. One week before Christmas, General George Washington organized his Continental Army at Valley Forge.
Everything important to maintaining the Army was lacking--ammunition, clothing, shelter, blankets, footgear, and food. Washington was unsure whether they would freeze before starving.
When called to answer a small British column conducting foraging raids at nearby Derby, the General urgently dispatched Congress; ". . . unless some great and capital change suddenly takes place . . . this Army must inevitably be reduced to one or other of these things. Starve, dissolve or disperse, in order to obtain subsistence in the best manner they can . . ."
The half-naked troops endured famine relieved only by sporadic supply deliveries. Washington fully expected mass desertion or open mutiny, yet the soldiers remained, resolved by their confidence in Washington himself. Washington's personal strength came from God.
A famous account of a Quaker named Isaac Potts emphasized Washington's reliance on prayer at Valley Forge. While passing through the woods near camp headquarters, Potts heard the Commander-in-Chief's voice in the forest.
Potts observed Washington on his knees in the act of devotion and interceding for the well-being of his troops and beloved country. Potts wrote, ". . . he adored that exuberant goodness which, from the depth of obscurity, had exalted him to the head of a great nation, and that nation fighting at fearful odds for all the world holds dear."
In orders later issued at Valley Forge, Washington told troops, "To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest Glory to laud the more distinguished character of Christian."
Col. John Laurens, the General's aide, wrote of "those dear, ragged Continentals whose patience will be the admiration of future ages." Indeed, to this day, Americans take great inspiration from Valley Forge. The Providential source of the troops' valor is a timeless lesson in faith providing further support for the message of Christmas.
First designated a national holiday in religious terms in 1789, presidential orders and Congressional proclamations have firmly restated the importance of Christmas ever since. Our nation's greatest leaders have always found inspiration in the hope of the Christ Child and the grace of God.
Thomas Jefferson chose among the works of Isaac Watts to be taught, in the District of Columbia schools, the Christmas carol, "Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her king."
Benjamin Franklin wrote, "Let no pleasure tempt thee, no profit allure thee, no ambition corrupt thee, no example sway thee, no persuasion move thee to do anything which thou knowest to be evil. So shalt thou live jollily, for a good conscience is a continual Christmas."
This year, as Americans revel in the joyous wonder of Christ's birth, we all do well to recall the many examples of God's presence among us and His unmistakable answers to our prayers for liberty. May God continue to bestow His choicest blessings upon the United States of America, this Christmas and always.