Let’s just say, 1961 was a tumultuous year for President John F. Kennedy.
According to Irish Central online, in October of that year, President Kennedy, father of four-year-old Caroline and infant son John-John, took the time to reassure young Michelle Rochon of Marine City, Michigan.
Michelle had written to the President explaining that she was worried about the Russians bombing the North Pole and taking out Santa Claus.
Michelle’s parents frequently discussed current events with her. The height of the Cold War was nearing, and Americans were wary of what the Soviet Union was about to do next.
Kennedy was advising families to build nuclear fallout shelters in case of an atomic event. That possibility became all too real in October, when news spread that the Soviets were planning to test the world’s largest nuclear weapon over the Arctic.
“I was glad to get your letter about trying to stop the Russians from bombing the North Pole,” wrote JFK, “and risking the life of Santa Claus.”
“I share your concern about the atmospheric testing of the Soviet Union, not only for the North Pole but for countries throughout the world; not only for Santa Claus but for people throughout the world.”
The President went on to reassure the little girl that all would be well. “… You must not worry about Santa Claus. I talked with him yesterday and he is fine. He will be making his rounds again this Christmas. — Sincerely, John Kennedy.”
But President Kennedy did a lot more for that little girl than reassure her. On August 5, 1963, Kennedy heroically defied the military might of the Joint Chiefs, and signed the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which banned the use of nuclear testing in the atmosphere, underwater, and in outer space.
With apologies to a certain young girl named Virginia, Kennedy had basically said, “Yes, Michelle, there is a Santa Claus and there will always be one for you and all children of the world. Bet on it.”
Kennedy was into Christmas and adored children: Each year, his family gave each other oranges and walnuts as presents.
It was first lady Jackie Kennedy who would begin the tradition of choosing a theme for the White House Christmas tree later that year, when she dressed the tree in ornaments representing the “Nutcracker” ballet.
Their daughter, Caroline, loved Christmas so much, she grew up to write a book about it.
JFK once said of the holiday, “For uncounted millions, Christmas expresses the deepest hopes for a world of peace where love rather than mistrust will flourish between neighbors.”
But it had been a tough year for Jack.
April brought the disastrous Bay of Pigs fiasco. The CIA had led him into a trap — one that he would never forgive, or forget.
Kennedy vowed to smash the CIA “into a thousand pieces,” a statement that may have cost him his life.
June brought the equally disastrous summit meeting with Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna. And to top it all off, on August 13, 1961, the East Germans built a wall between East and West Berlin.
At this time in history, American children were told that if there was a nuclear blast they would be safe if they just got under their school desks.
Back in 1961, it was the Russians — funny, some things never change — versus the Americans. At least back then, everyone knew who the bad guys were.
The letter was mailed back to Michigan, and a carbon copy was preserved in the president’s papers. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston showcases the letter around Christmas each year.