Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Christmas Truce

“This will be the most memorable Christmas I've ever spent or likely to spend: since about tea time yesterday I don't think there’s been a shot fired on either side up to now,” these simple words read in a letter from an anonymous British soldier, fighting in World War I. The battle happening on Belgium soil in 1914 found a quick break on Christmas Eve.

The British and German troops fought in the trenches of a war that brought the greatest devastation the world had ever known at that point in history. Because of progressing technology offering the battlefields machine guns and bomber planes, trenches and foxholes gave the only hope of sanctity. This “War to End All Wars” brought devastation and horror like no one had ever seen before.

As they lay in the trenches on that cold, December night, a German soldier remembered it was Christmas Eve. He decided to place a few candles around the trench as his best attempt to decorate for the Season. Other soldiers followed, and soon their lights were visible to the enemy across the Western Front. The fog cleared for a moment, so the stars were bright. Once the British saw the candles, they British followed their example. Soon after, someone began to sing.

“Stille Nacht” echoed through the trenches. The words of the Germans touched the hearts of the British soldiers. Even though they could not understand the lyrics, they recognized the melody. The British joined them by singing, “Silent Night.” Despite the different uniforms, flags, and language, they sang the same song of Christmas.

One German soldier decided to step out of his trench when he heard the enemy singing along. The British soldiers heard approaching footsteps, so they looked out of their foxholes. That German soldier, brave enough to cross enemy lines, stood holding a tiny, wiry Christmas tree. He grabbed a small tree, stomped by the soldiers, and brought it as a gift to his enemy.

His gift spurred a Christmas party.

“They also gave us a few songs etc. so we had quite a social party. Several of them can speak English very well so we had a few conversations. Some of our chaps went to over to their lines.” On that Christmas Eve, the enemies walked into No Man’s Land to celebrate together. The sparse rations were shared, and a festive Holiday meal was created that night. The Christmas carols they had sung in their living rooms and churches now tied the men together as they sung on the battlefield.

“I exchanged one of my balaclavas for a hat. I've also got a button off one of their tunics.” As the soldiers emptied their packs and pockets, a gift exchange quickly ensued. No one shopped or even made a list; they only offered to each other what they had. The generosity of one replaced the sacrifice of another. All the glad tidings emerged that night in the hearts of the soldiers. Food, gifts, song, and celebration took precedent that clear night.

“A few of us that were lucky could go to Holy Communion early this morning. It was celebrated in a ruined farm about 500 yards behind us.”
They even worshipped together. Holy Communion, the most intimate of sacraments, linked the enemies together. They offered the Bread and the Wine, the Body and the Blood of Jesus, to one another.

“Silent Night, Holy Night; All is calm, all is bright.” That night on the Western Front, just like that night in Bethlehem two millenniums ago, brought peace in the midst of chaos. This year, may you find the same peace.

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