FDR and Churchill at the 1941 White House Christmas Tree Lighting
December 24, 1941. Christmas Eve. Just 17 days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. President Franklin D. Roosevelt lights the White House Christmas tree and is joined in this ceremonial act by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who was in Washington for the Arcadia Conference, the first wartime conference between these two close allies since the American entrance into World War II just weeks prior. Out of the conference came a U.S./UK Combined Chiefs of Staff and a Combined Munitions Board. The conferees also agreed to an invasion of North Africa and reaffirmed their commitment to defeating Hitler in the European Theater of Operations before turning their total attention toward Japan and the Pacific Theater—a noteworthy action, considering the raw emotion that must have been coursing through both America itself and its head of government so soon after the attack against Pearl Harbor.
FDR begins his remarks at 8:36. Churchill takes over at 16:48. But the entire recording is well worth a listen. On this day, 73 years ago, two of the 20th century’s most monumental figures took the stage with two purposes. On the surface, they took to the microphone to announce the lighting of a tree. But in their comments they made clear the principals for which they had now committed both of their nations to a war that would encompass so much of the world in the coming few years, and which would shape it far beyond the moment that hostilities formally ceased.