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Joseph: ‘The Christmas Truce’

Posted: December 11, 2014 11:48 a.m.
Updated: December 12, 2014 1:00 a.m.


Earlier this week, as I sat down at my desk stacked high with a rather large “catch-up pile,” flipped on my computer and opened up my browser, I was greeted by a plethora of Christmas cheer. You know, the bright pop-up holiday ad-type cheer and the Top 10 gift list-type cheer among others. In my view as well were numerous articles on a variety of topics including “How to Raise the Bar for Your Holiday Decorations,” “Picking That Perfect Tree,” “Best Free Apps for Christmas Shopping,” “Say Cheese: Time for the Dreaded Family Portrait” and the final two but no less important “Beware of Holiday Hazards in the Home” and “How to Avoid Bad Christmas Music.” I quickly came to the decision this valuable information was a bit of a “DIY” overload, so I would table this reading to a later date. A lot later.

For me, all of this advice, courtesy of the World Wide Web, of course, proved either to be a not-so-gentle reminder of things I hadn’t gotten to yet or a blunt “sticky note” of ones I knew would never get done. But I continued to navigate through my home page and loaded inbox. I had just received an email from my father. It was his annual “we all have everything we need” speech he delivers at the beginning of each December. In his usual manner, he asks us to keep it light in the gift-giving department or suggests we adopt the “no gifts” policy this year. He is right and I see myself sharing more and more of his wise sentiments. His wishes for every Christmas are simple and involve his family being together while sharing love, good food and better conversation. No matter what the year has brought, he feels this is the time, as a family, we leave any conflict at the door. And most every year, this is the way Christmas with my family pans out. (Well OK, except for 1998 when my siblings and I didn’t see eye to eye on a particular subject … let’s just leave it at that.)

Included in his email, my father sent me the inspirational story of “The Christmas Truce,” with which I was not familiar but in a odd way was parallel to his fore mentioned communication. It was a story coming out of WWI where, along the front lines in late December of 1914, opponents in the West laid down their arms and celebrated Christmas together in a spontaneous gesture of peace toward their enemies. On December 7, 1914, only five months into the war, Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary hiatus of the fighting for the celebration of Christmas. Of course, the warring countries refused to create any official cease-fire. But as the story goes, British and German soldiers from their cruel life in the trenches declared their own unofficial truce on the eve of Christmas 1914. The meeting of enemies as temporary friends in no-man’s land was experienced by hundreds, possibly thousands. It began as German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across this no-man’s land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues. The soldiers exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings from home and sang carols and songs. Some soldiers would use this short-lived ceasefire for the more somber task of retrieving the bodies of fellow comrades. The strange and unauthorized truce lasted several days.

In many minds, the facts of this true story have become mythologized, but perhaps this is the most significant gift of “The Christmas Truce” today: with so much uncertainty in the world as of late, we all must think at times about the solutions for this unrest. So, from this inspiring story in history, amid some of the most horrible places imaginable, it is comforting to believe that enemies could lay down their weapons and extend the hand of goodwill. There was hope, however brief, for the triumph of man’s spirit over adversity. Hope is big. It is gift at Christmas that costs nothing.



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