First SnowThis year marks the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce of World War One.  Most people have never even heard of it.  We spend so much time and ink memorializing the wholesale slaughter of human beings we know nothing about, that we have little emotional space left to contemplate one of the most significant peaceful accomplishments in our history – when soldiers, for a very brief time, chose friendship over hatred, life over death, peace over war.

The British and German soldiers had been involved in a virtual blood bath for almost half a year, bombing and shelling each other from deep trenches they had dug with small shovels.  They were exhausted, depressed, frightened, and most likely wishing they were home for the holidays.  During one of the respites from fighting, when both sides were tending to their wounded, their ammo, and whatever food they could find, there arose a beautiful sound from one of the trenches.  The British soldiers heard the Germans singing a song whose words they did not understand, but still they could tell that they were listening to Silent Night from across the cold mud, barbed wire, and piles of dead bodies.  So they did the most sensible thing.  They started singing along with the Germans.

At first, soldiers on both sides popped their heads up to see what the others were doing, both afraid of getting shot.  Eventually, both Germans and Brits entered into No-Man’s Land to meet their enemies eye to eye on this Christmas day.  Apparently all it took was standing up and pulling themselves out of their trenches.  The rest was relatively easy.

Soldiers on both sides had a glorious Christmas.  One to remember.  One for the books.  They sang carols together, exchanged gifts, barbecued a pig for a Christmas feast, and played soccer later on.  German beer was exchanged for British rum.  Even officers as high as colonels relaxed in friendly conversations with their enemy counterparts, and eventually posed for pictures together.

There was one noticeable holdout that day – a 25 year-old German soldier who thought that all of that peace stuff was totally inappropriate.  His name was Adolph Hitler.

The following day the fighting resumed, hesitantly at first, because now the soldiers were charged with the daunting task of killing their new friends.  Christmas was over.

Religion can be a strange tool for beings as foolish and reactive as humans.  Terrorists roam the world looking for interesting and violent ways to kill innocents, all because they don’t have the intelligence to understand the basic peaceful teachings of their own religions.  Instead, they bastardize the words of their God to justify blowing up small children in large numbers.  But this is nothing new.  Religion has been used as an excuse to wage war since, well, the invention of religion.  There were The Crusades, The Trojan Wars, not to mention all of those who died in Northern Ireland not too long ago.

During the Second World War, that young man, Adolph, who refused to rise out of the trenches on Christmas day, saw to it that millions of Jews were slaughtered under his watch.  And, of course we have our present situation, where everyone is being targeted because of their different religious beliefs.

So what is it about that Christmas day one hundred years ago that was so special?  Why is it that enemies were able to use religion as a means to bridge gaps and build friendships, if even for a day, so long ago?  And now it’s just the opposite; religion is the force behind the sword that is thrust into another man’s heart.  Are we going backwards with the peace movement, or does such a movement even still exist?

Every now and then I try to imagine what special thing the British and German soldiers did to create peace and friendship on that special Christmas day.  Sometimes I can almost picture in my mind the initial act that led to handshakes and laughter and sharing and friendship.  It’s something we seem to have lost in the last 100 years, and I’m pretty sure I know what it was.

Those men of Christmas past had the courage and nobility to stand, and rise above the very trenches in which they had been placed.

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7 responses »

  1. Sherry Malone says:

    Wonderful. Thank you.

  2. I love the picture. Did you do it? Thanks for an unusual Christmas story.

  3. Lou Fisher says:

    Wow. Unexpected and deeply expressed. Timely too. Didn’t know you were also a history buff. Anyway, thanks and Merry Christmas.

    Lou

    >

  4. Hello, dear Rick:
    Have a wonderful holiday and a prosperous New Year full of happiness and cheer. Say hello to Kim and lots of health to both.
    Amazing story about the war and soldiers from both sides. Even a simple song can bring out the good on humans, even for a fraction of a moment, the light is there…..
    Check out Mike’s new web site: dollygarts.com, it has most of his works and his new ones too.

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