President Franklin Pierce placed the first Christmas Tree in the White House in 1856. Born Nov. 23, 1804, Franklin Pierce, was elected a Congressman at age 29 and a Senator at age 33. Franklin Pierce resigned from Congress during the Mexican-American War and enlisted as a private. He was eventually promoted to brigadier general. Pierce’s leg was crushed at the Battle of Churubusco.
A Northern Democrat, Franklin Pierce ran for president against General Winfield Scott, whom he had served under during the War. Tragically, while campaigning for president, Franklin Pierce’s son, 11-year-old Bennie, was killed when their campaign train rolled off its tracks.
Franklin Pierce was elected the 14th U.S. president, serving from 1853-1857. On the second anniversary of his wife Jane’s death, Franklin Pierce was baptized into the church she had been a member of, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Concord, New Hampshire.
Franklin Pierce was friends with the famous American writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Franklin Pierce was also friends with Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was with him the night he died .
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote in a biography of Franklin Pierce: “Whether in sorrow or success he has learned … that religious faith is the most valuable … of human possessions. … With this sense, there has come … a wide sympathy for the modes of Christian worship and a reverence for religious belief as a matter between the Deity and man’s soul.”
President Franklin Pierce said in his inaugural, March 4, 1853: “It must be felt that there is no national security but in the nation’s humble, acknowledged dependence upon God and His overruling Providence.”
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was an American author and poet. He became famous through his novel, “The Scarlet Letter,” published in 1850. Hawthorne’s contemporaries included: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, Edgar Alan Poe, and Herman Melville.
Melville read Hawthorne’s short story collection “Mosses from an Old Manse” and praised it in a famous review, “Hawthorne and His Mosses.” Melville dedicated his book, “Moby Dick,” to Hawthorne “in appreciation for his genius.”
Nathaniel and his wife Sophia had three children: Una, Julian and Rose. Rose, after her husband’s death, became a nun, and founded the religious order, Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, to care for victims of incurable cancer.
Hawthorne’s short tales were published as collections in “Twice-Told Tales” (1837) and “Mosses from an Old Manse” (1850), with some of the more popular ones being:
- “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” (1832)
- “The Maypole of Merrymount” (1832)
- “Young Goodman Brown” (1835)
- “The Minister’s Black Veil” (1836)
- “The Birth-Mark” (1843)
- “Rappaccini’s Daughter” (1844)
- “Ethan Brand” (1850)
- “Tanglewood Tales” (1853)
Hawthorne’s major romance works were:
- “The Scarlet Letter” (1950)
- “The House of Seven Gables” (1851)
- “Blithedale Romance” (1852)
- “The Marble Faun” (1860)
In “Ethan Brand,” written in 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote: “‘What is the Unpardonable Sin?’ asked the lime-burner. … ‘It is a sin that grew within my own breast,” replied Ethan Brand. … ‘The sin of an intellect that triumphed over the sense of brotherhood with man and reverence for God.'”
In his poem, “The Star of Calvary,” Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote:
It is the same infrequent star,
The all mysterious light,
That, like a watcher gazing on
The changes of the night,
Toward the hill of Bethlehem, took
Its solitary flight.
It is the same infrequent star;
Its sameness startleth me;
Although the disk is red a-blood
And downward silently
It looketh on another hill,
The hill of Calvary.
Behold, O Israel! behold!
It is no human One
That ye have dared to crucify.
What evil hath he done?
It is your King, O Israel,
The God-begotten Son!
The origins of the Christmas tree and lights at this time of year is interesting. The Christmas tree’s origins can be traced back to the 200 A.D.’s, when the early church father Tertullian wrote: “You are the light of the world, a tree ever green, if you have renounced the heathen temple.”
St. Boniface (680-755), also called Wynfred, was Apostle of the Germans, being sent forth by Pope Gregory II as a missionary to heathen Germany. In the year 716, St. Boniface confronted the Chieftain Gundhar, who was about to offer the little Prince Asulf as a “bloody sacrifice” to Thor, their pagan god who supposedly lived in the huge “donar” oak tree at Geismar.
St. Boniface boldly took an ax and after a few swings at the mighty “blood” oak, an enormous wind blew the tree over. The heathen throng was in awe and converted to Christianity.
Then pointing to an evergreen tree that was next to it, or that had miraculously grown up, St. Boniface said: “This is the word, and this is the counsel. Not a drop of blood shall fall tonight, for this is the birth-night of Saint Christ, Son of the All-Father and Saviour of the world. This little tree, a young child of the forest, shall be a home tree tonight. It is the wood of peace, for your houses are built of fir. It is the sign of endless life, for its branches are ever green. See how it points toward Heaven! Let this be called the tree of the Christ Child; gather about it, not in the wild woods but in your homes; there it will shelter no deeds of blood, but loving gifts and lights of kindness.”
Lights at this season can be traced back to the Jewish Festival of Lights, or Feast of the Dedication, in Hebrew called ” Hanukkah.” Candles are lit to celebrate the driving out of the heathen army of the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes from Jerusalem in 165 B.C. by Judas Maccabaeus. Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the temple by using it for idol worship.
When the Temple was cleansed of all the pagan defilement, the oil lampstand, known as the menorah, was to be relit. There was a problem – there was only found enough holy olive oil to burn for one day, and it would take a week before more could be made. The decision was made to pour the small amount in the lamp, and miraculously, it burned for an entire week!
The feast of the dedication of the Temple was mentioned in the New Testament, John 10:22: “And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch.”
The person credited with putting lights in a tree was Martin Luther. In 1520, Martin Luther (1483-1546) was walking home on Christmas Eve under the cold December sky and noticed the countless stars illuminating the night.
Luther returned home, and to the delight of his wife and children, set up an evergreen tree placing a great number of small candles on its branches. He set up a creche scene under the tree so that the lights would appear as the stars above Bethlehem on the night of Christ’s birth. Martin Luther said that all gifts come from the Christ Child, which in old German was pronounced ” Kris Kindl” (Christkindl), later pronounced ” Kris Kringle.”
Lighting the National Christmas Tree, Dec. 24, 1952, President Harry S Truman stated: “Shepherds, in a field, heard angels singing: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ … We turn to the old, old story of how ‘God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ … Let us remember always to try to act … in the spirit of the Prince of Peace. He bore in His heart no hate and no malice – nothing but love for all mankind. We should … follow His example. … Let us also pray for our enemies. … Through Jesus Christ the world will yet be a better and a fairer place.”
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