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Inside the Beltway: A wartime Christmas in Washington, 1941

December 24, 2018

Seventy seven years ago, Winston Churchill was a guest for Christmas dinner at the White House, and the host was President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The British prime minister had arrived at the White House on Dec. 22, 1941, to discuss Allied strategy, and Churchill’s sudden presence was an event which sparked banner headlines around the world according to the White House Historical Association.

The holiday meal was well observed, though, and chronicled by The Associated Press. Things got underway with oysters on the half shell and crisp crackers, followed by clear broth with sherry and thin toast. The main course was roast turkey with chestnut and sausage dressing, giblet gravy, beans, cauliflower, casserole of sweet potatoes, cranberry jelly, rolls, grapefruit salad and cheese crescents. Dessert was plum pudding and hard sauce, ice cream and cake, coffee, plus salted nuts and “assorted bonbons.”

Then it was all business.

“Churchill stayed at the White House for the next three weeks, taking up residence in the Blue Room. The American newspapers couldn’t help but comment on the irony of the prime minister residing in the mansion that British troops burned during the War of 1812. The close quarters helped Churchill and Roosevelt cement their friendship. They started talking in the morning and didn’t stop until lights out, turning over ideas and weighing options. Both possessed lively minds that thrived on information,” noted a historic account by Meredith Hindley, for the National Endowment of the Humanities.

“The prime minister, of course, didn’t travel to Washington alone. The rest of his retinue 86 members strong, ranging from Adm. Sir Dudley Pound and Gen. Sir John Dill to stenographers, valets, detectives, private secretaries, and a code clerk were lodged elsewhere.”

President and Prime Minister were together for 113 days from 1941 and 1945. Curious? A good read on this historical meeting and related events should consider “Churchill: Walking with Destiny” by historian Andrew Roberts, published in October by Viking Books.

REAGAN’S FIRST CHRISTMAS MESSAGE, 1981

“The Nativity story of nearly 20 centuries ago is known by all faiths as a hymn to the brotherhood of man. For Christians, it is the fulfillment of age-old prophecies and the reaffirmation of God’s great love for all of us. Through a generous Heavenly Father’s gift of His Son, hope and compassion entered a world weary with fear and despair and changed it for all time,” President Ronald Reagan said in his Christmas message to the nation in 1981.

“On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Christ with prayer, feasting, and great merriment. But, most of all, we experience it in our hearts. For, more than just a day, Christmas is a state of mind. It is found throughout the year whenever faith overcomes doubt, hope conquers despair, and love triumphs over hate. It is present when men of any creed bring love and understanding to the hearts of their fellow man.”

“The feeling is seen in the wondrous faces of children and in the hopeful eyes of the aged. It overflows the hearts of cheerful givers and the souls of the caring. And it is reflected in the brilliant colors, joyful sounds, and beauty of the winter season. Let us resolve to honor this spirit of Christmas and strive to keep it throughout the year,” the 40th president advised.

A PRESIDENTIAL NOG

Yes, the first president of the United States was fond of eggnog according to historic accounts. President George Washington, in fact, left behind his own recipe, and here it is, courtesy of the Old Farmer’s Almanac founded in 1792, and found at Almanac.com.

“Here is a recipe for Christmas Eggnog from our first president, in the exact words as they were written by Washington himself. This was one of Washington’s favorite concoctions for celebrating Christmas at Mount Vernon. (Get ready. It will knock your socks off!),” the almanac states:

“One quart cream, one quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one pint brandy, one half pint rye whiskey, one half pint Jamaica rum, one quarter pint sherry mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of 12 eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently,” the president wrote.

For those who may wonder, The Old Farmer’s Almanac also advises that Dec. 28 is the “best day” at year’s end to begin a diet or attempt to quit smoking, while Dec. 29 and 30 are both ideal to get a haircut. New Year’s Eve, the sages say, is a good time to can, pickle or make sauerkraut.

In the first month of the new year, the almanac also advises that Jan. 2-3 is a good day to go camping while Jan. 4. is a good to end a project and Jan. 7 is a good to start a new one. The best fishing days in January are from the 5th to the 21st.

THOSE OLD TOYS

Good Housekeeping has published a guide called “The 30 Most Valuable Toys From Your Childhood,” advising readers, “Man, we wish we’d held on to so many things.”

On the list: Garbage Pail Kids Cards, original Hot Wheels, first editions of “Where the Wild Things Are” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” Jem and the Holograms dolls, original Transformers, original Game Boys, and the American Girls “Molly” doll.

See the low-down at Goodhousekeeping.com.

POLL DU JOUR

89 percent of Americans believed in Santa Claus when they were a child; 94 percent of Republicans, 88 percent of independents and 87 percent of Democrats agree.

84 percent say Santa Claus will rate them as “nice” this year; 85 percent of Republicans, 81 percent of independents and 86 percent of Democrats agree.

83 percent overall celebrate Christmas; 91 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of independents and 84 percent of Democrats agree.

59 percent overall believe that Santa is a Democrat; 21 percent of Republicans, 53 percent of independents and 96 percent of Democrats agree.

41 percent overall believe that Santa is a Republican; 79 percent of Republicans, 47 percent of independents and 4 percent of Democrats agree.

Source: An Economist/YouGov poll of 1,500 U.S. adults conducted Dec. 16-18.

Merry Christmas, and thank you for reading Inside the Beltway.

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