Herbert Hoover’s Many Facets of Christmas

By Matthew Schaefer

ca. Dec. 1952, Herbert Hoover in front of Christmas tree.
ca. Dec. 1952, Herbert Hoover in front of Christmas tree. #31-1952-79

Christmas is a holiday laden with memories–family, fun, food, and faith form the warp and woof of these memories.  This held true for Herbert Hoover.  Late in his life, Hoover began to collect his Christmas reminiscences to share with family and friends.  One set of such memories is found in Hoover’s Post-Presidential Subject Files under ‘Christmas.’

In these memoirs, Hoover recalls Christmas across the years [shades of Dickens’ spirits visiting Scrooge].  His first memories were at age six, as a young boy for whom Christmas brought no store-bought gifts as times were tough and money was needed for the mortgage. Still Christmas brought the joy of sharing time with family, chopping down the tree, and Aunt Millie’s popcorn balls.  Later years saw the youthful Hoover experiencing the magic of Christmas stockings, store-bought peppermint sticks, and roast chicken with Uncle Laban Miles.

As a young adult, Hoover shared Christmas pasties with Cornish miners in

The Hoover family, Christmas 1903.
The Hoover family, Christmas 1903.California. #31-1903-14

Grass Valley, California. He commented that eucalyptus was no substitute for pine trees while celebrating Christmas in Australia—further challenged by the holiday falling in the middle of summer.  Hoover shared these memories with the guests who attended his black tie dinners on Christmas Eve, with his friends and fellow fishermen at the Key Largo Anglers’ Club, and with the families of his sons.

Of special note is Hoover’s talk on a Quaker Christmas shared with his friend Lewis Strauss.  Hoover offers a far-ranging reminiscence which includes a history of Quakers in America, family lore, and even assurances to Virginia that there is a Santa Claus.  Along the way, Hoover notes that in his youth children were ‘encouraged all lands of make believe from Mother Goose to Santa Claus.’

Quakers also devoted great attention to Christmas: ‘Christmas Day morning was given the joys of opening stockings, but the day was given mostly to the deep religious honors for the coming of Christ.  Departing from the usual silent worship of Quaker meetings, the second chapter of Luke and the Sermon on the Mount were read aloud and with feeling.’

After a brief recap of holiday meals and treats, Hoover returns to the magical hold Christmas has on the young.  He invokes Virginia, with her doubts about Santa Claus, and reminds her that the most real things in the world are those that are unseen—faith, love, poetry, and Santa.

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