The Kennedy family’s last Christmas was full of activities and family visits.
The White House foyer was decorated with a 16 foot “Nutcracker Tree… trimmed with candy canes and toys…every branch laden with trinkets, toys and sweets.” It had been “Mrs. Kennedy’s wish to decorate the White House in the style of an old time country home,” with “holly and untrimmed fir trees…throughout the mansion, and bunches of mistletoe hung from the door.”
The White House Christmas Card in 1962 featured a photograph of Mrs. Kennedy, Caroline, and John Jr. in a sleigh drawn by Caroline’s pony Macaroni on the south lawn of the White House.
In early December the Kennedys enjoyed a visit from Lee Radziwell, Jackie Kennedy’s sister, and her family. A picture of the family gathering can be found at:
On December 17, President Kennedy presided over the lighting of the National Christmas Tree at the White House Ellipse Grounds. The U.S. Marine Band and the Tuskeegee Institute Choir from Alabama provided music. The White House imported eight reindeer from the National Zoo.
President Kennedy delivered a radio message to the American People:
Ladies and gentlemen, Secretary Udall, members of the clergy:
With the lighting of this tree, which is an old ceremony in Washington and one which has been among the most important responsibilities of a good many Presidents of the United States, we initiate, in a formal way, the Christmas Season.
We mark the festival of Christmas which is the most sacred and hopeful day in our civilization. For nearly 2,000 years the message of Christmas, the message of peace and good will towards all men, has been the guiding star of our endeavors. This morning I had a meeting at the White House which included some of our representatives from far off countries in Africa and Asia. They were returning to their posts for the Christmas holidays. Talking with them afterwards, I was struck by the fact that in the far off continents Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, as well as Christians, pause from their labors on the 25th day of December to celebrate the birthday of the Prince of Peace. There could be no more striking proof that Christmas is truly the universal holiday of all men. It is the day when all of us dedicate our thoughts to others; when all are reminded that mercy and compassion are the enduring virtues; when all show, by small deeds and large and by acts, that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
It is the day when we remind ourselves that man can and must live in peace with his neighbors and that it is the peacemakers who are truly blessed. In this year of 1962 we greet each other at Christmas with some special sense of the blessings of peace. This has been a year of peril when the peace has been sorely threatened. But it has been a year when peril was faced and when reason ruled. As a result, we may talk, at this Christmas, just a little bit more confidently of peace on earth, good will to men. As a result, the hopes of the American people are perhaps a little higher. We have much yet to do. We still need to ask that God bless everyone. But yet I think we can enter this season of good will with more than usual joy in our hearts.
And I think all of us extend a special word of gratitude and appreciation to those who serve the United States abroad; to the one million men in uniform who will celebrate this Christmas away from their homes; to those hundreds of young men and women and some older men and women who serve in far off countries in our Peace Corps; to the members of the Foreign Service; to those who work in the various information services, AID agencies, and others who work for us abroad who will celebrate this December 25th thousands of miles from us at sea, on land, and in the air, but with us. It is to them that we offer the best of Christmases and to all of you I send my very best wishes for a blessed and happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year. Thank you.
This [indicating the electric switch] was first pressed by President Coolidge in 1923 and succeedingly by President Hoover, Vice President Curtis, by President Franklin Roosevelt on many occasions, by President Harry Truman, by President Eisenhower, by Vice President Johnson. I am delighted to be in that illustrious company and we therefore light the tree.
The Kennedy family spent Christmas Day in Palm Beach, Florida. Five-year-old Caroline got a talking doll from Santa Claus, while two-year old John received a helicopter. Mrs. Kennedy gave President Kennedy a gift of scrimshaw, a 9 ½ x 4 ½ inch molar from the jawbone of a whale, with an inscription of the Presidential seal sketched on it by scrimshaw artist Delano Milton, a distant relative of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
John Connally had a lot to celebrate that Christmas. He had resigned from his position as Secretary of the Navy to run for Texas Governor, and had defeated former Texas Governor Price Daniels, with 54% of the vote, that November.
There is no written record of how the Connallys spent Christmas the next month; but it must have been a busy time. Connally would have been preparing for the inauguration in January. The weather in Austin was mercurial as usual that hear, with highs in the 80’s and lows below zero.
The Connally family probably gathered at the Picosa Ranch, south of San Antonio. They had three surviving children: Sharon (whose sons still operate the Picosa Ranch Resort), John III and Mark. Connally was one of eight children so large family gatherings were probably a part of the holidays. Hunting was (and still is) a popular pastime, and the ranch had plenty of deer.
1962 would be the last Christmas for the Kennedy family and probably the last peaceful Christmas for many years for the Connallys. The next November would change the lives of each of these families, as well as the lives of most Americans, forever.