25 December 2010


Ninety-six year ago today, something remarkable happened. It was the year 1914, and Europe was gripped by the horrors of World War I. On the frozen fields of France, ground troops from both sides were lifted from their misery by an event which has since become famous, the Christmas truce -- "a seried of widespread, unofficial ceasefires that took place along the Western Front .... During the week leading up to Christmas, parties of German and British soldiers began to exchange seasonal greetings and songs between their trenches. On occasion, the tension was reduced to the point that individuals would walk across to talk to their opposite numbers bearing gifts. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many soldiers from both sides -- as well as, to a lesser degree, from French units -- independently ventured into no man's land, where they mingled, exchanging food and souvenirs. As well as joint burial ceremonies, several meetings ended in carol-singing, or games of soccer. The truce is seen as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity amidst one of the most violent events of modern history."

Nearly a century later, the events of that time linger with me. I first learned of them in the form of a song -- I invite you to listen Christmas In The Trenches. John McCutcheon's 1984 ballad tells the story of the truce from the perspective of a fictional British soldier. It is a lovely and poignant song, in both music and lyrics .... I cannot listen to it without tears coming to my eyes.

The truce was portrayed in a 2005 film, Joyeux Noel, moving in its own way. As often happens, the screenplay takes a few liberties with characters for dramatic effect, but the underlying message remains.

Clearly, a holiday truce between enemies who happen to share a common religion is more likely than a truce between foes who do not. Nevertheless, this writer chooses to find hope for humankind, when, as the result of realizing that the "enemy" is a person with dreams, fears and needs like everyone else, an individual soldier realizes with searing illumination,

"The question haunted every heart that lived that wondrous night,
'Whose family have I fixed within my sights?'"

No comments:

Post a Comment