History & Culture / Politics

Bethlehem’s Light Burns Brightly this Christmas

AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis


Just over a week before Christmas, a symbolic celebration took place on the border of Poland and Ukraine as Polish scouts handed over the Bethlehem Light of Peace to their neighbors. For nearly four decades, the Bethlehem Peace Light organization has brought flames from oil lamps that have been continuously burning at the Church of the Nativity for more than a thousand years to 30 European nations, as well as some countries in North and South America. The tradition, a powerful symbol of how Christ came to be the light in our dark world, is also a reminder of a moment during the Cold War from President Ronald Reagan that Eastern Europe and the rest of the world remembers today.

The Christmas candle is a poignant reminder of how Christ came to be the light in our dark world, and that his message of hope can triumph over even the most pernicious evil. The first Bethlehem Peace Light campaign was organized by the Austrian Broadcasting Company in 1986. But five years earlier in 1981, President Reagan set out a candle to burn in the White House window on Christmas Eve and asked that Americans join him in doing so in a show of support with the Polish people, who were then suffering under Martial Law.

In December of that year, the Polish Communist regime had clamped down hard on the population in an effort to crush the Solidarity trade union that led a broadly popular anti-authoritarian resistance in Poland in the previous year. On December 22, the former Polish Ambassador, who was then seeking asylum in the United States, shared with President Reagan the tradition of lighting a candle to show solidarity with the movement, and asked that he partake in the tradition at the White House, a small request which Mr. Reagan gladly obliged. In a national televised address to the nation a day later, President Reagan asked the country to also light a candle in support of “the brave Polish people in their time of troubles.”

President Ronald Reagan gives his address to the nation on Christmas about the situation in Poland from the Oval Office on Dec. 23, 1981.

“Let the light of millions of candles in American homes give notice that the light of freedom is not going to be extinguished,” Mr. Reagan emphasized. “We are blessed with a freedom and abundance denied to so many,” he added. “Let those candles remind us that these blessings bring with them a solid obligation, an obligation to the God who guides us, an obligation to the heritage of liberty and dignity handed down to us by our forefathers and an obligation to the children of the world, whose future will be shaped by way we live our lives today.”

For many Poles, that unifying gesture had an even more profound meaning than perhaps even President Reagan realized. On the night before the president’s address, secret police searched the houses of tens of thousands of Solidarity freedom fighters. At Christmas Eve dinner, which according to Polish tradition is an inauguration of Christmas, tens of thousands of families stared sadly at the empty chairs of their arrested loved ones.

In order to punish them further, the Communist regime cut off electricity from their apartments despite the some of the coldest temperatures in years.

Such a power shortage also happened in a house of an eight-year-old-boy I knew. I saw tears in his mother’s eyes when the light of the candle brightened her face. But as soon as their candle started burning, they saw that such light was lit in dozens of homes – even those which had electricity. His mom smiled, and the boy too.

A few days later, they learned from Radio Free Europe that, thousands of miles away, in millions of American homes and at the White House, that light was also burning. That boy never forgot that warmth and light when it seemed he was deprived of reason for hope.

It is this same seemingly hopeless situation which people in many in places like China, Iran, and Ukraine face today. Like the Poles, they are struggling to break free from the grips of authoritarian oppressors. The Iranians continue courageous demonstrations and strikes in dozens of cities, while Chinese boldly protest night and day, and Ukrainians mount armed resistance to prove that they are ready to pay the ultimate price for liberty.

All face regimes with disproportionate forces armed with missiles, tanks, armored vehicles, and gas bombs backed by powerful propaganda and electronic surveillance. These authoritarian governments are united in their goal of forcing people into submission by hunger, freezing temperatures, intimidation, and murder.

But as the old adage goes, the night is always darkest before the dawn.

That dawn came for the Polish people 10 years later, on December 25, 1991. As the hammer and sickle flag was lowered for the last time over the Kremlin, thousands of Poles spontaneously lit candles to celebrate the collapse of the Evil Empire. On that day, the simple sight of a candle burning in a window was more powerful than all the guns, tanks, and bombs that the Soviet Union had threatened the world with.

As the Bethlehem angels revealed to shepherds tending their flock thousands of years ago, and as President Reagan and thousands of Polish patriots reminded us, liberty and peace are gifts from Heaven above, and are the spiritual inheritance of every person. Christmas candles are a visual reminder of this fact, and a powerful symbol of the bond that unites all people yearning to be free.

Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.

We hope you've enjoyed this article. While you're here, we have a small favor to ask...

Support AMAC Action. Our 501 (C)(4) advances initiatives on Capitol Hill, in the state legislatures, and at the local level to protect American values, free speech, the exercise of religion, equality of opportunity, sanctity of life, and the rule of law.

Donate Now

If You Enjoy Articles Like This - Subscribe to the AMAC Daily Newsletter
and Download the AMAC App

Sign Up Today Download

If You Enjoy Articles Like This - Subscribe to the AMAC Daily Newsletter!

Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
5 months ago

God bless the gifts that President Reagan bestowed upon us. Thank you for this.
Merry Christmas. May our Christian God be with you.

Patriot Will
5 months ago

President Reagan was a humble human being who did his best to keep America strong. He loved this country and appreciated all the good in its people. Biden, on the other hand, is doing his best to destroy this country. Instead of looking for the good in America, Biden creates division and resentment.

5 months ago

I remember the candle in the window. I remember doing it myself. Except for the collapse of the USSR, I never heard the outcome. Thank you for printing this story.
This is also a reminder of how wonderful President Reagan was.

5 months ago

Thank you, Ben, for a poignant reminder of what Christmas is all about and a beautiful reminder of how President Reagan inspired the nation and the world. So sad we don’t have this in the WH today.

5 months ago

May the blessings of this Christmas remain with us throughout the year. We need more leaders of President Reagans caliber and leadership. God Bless the USA..

5 months ago

Amen brother.God bless America.Royal Air Force. (Let go!)

Lieutenant Beale
5 months ago

Thank you Ben.
Well written señor.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x