The Transylvania Times -

The Journey Inward: Silent Night: A World War One Christmas Truce

 

December 21, 2017



After almost unending rain had made the trenches unbearably muddy, Christmas Eve, 1914, in contrast, began on a crisp, clear morning. This reprieve lifted the spirits of soldiers on both sides of the conflict.

Just five months into the war and one million lives already taken, soldiers faced their enemy less than 100 yards away. In between was “no man’s land,” the fields between the trenches where fallen comrades lay frozen. On one side French and English were dug in, and on the other side were Germans.

According to one account, an Englishman saw a bright light coming from the German side and soon figured out the lights adorned a Christmas tree. Only when Germans started singing “Silent Night” did the mistrust begin to fade. In turn, the French and English sang Christmas songs, too.

On Christmas Day, Germans, who were winning the war at that point, slowly emerged from their trenches, calling out “Merry Christmas” in English. Allied soldiers came out warily to meet them. All along the 500-mile Western front soldiers began to mingle with their combatants and over the course of that day exchanged gifts of cigarettes, food, buttons and hats. (A reference for this column is an article entitled “Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce of 1914” by Naina Bajekal)

About the day, one veteran from the Fifth battalion Black Watch, Alfred Anderson, later recalled that he remembered the silence, “the eerie sound of silence…..It was a short peace in a terrible war.”

This event had been a kind of miracle, “a rare moment of peace, just a few months into the war that would eventually claim over 15 million lives.”

The guns of World War I did not fall silent again until the signing of the armistice on Nov. 11, 1919.

“The Christmas Truce, however, provided an unforgettable memory for many such as the British soldier who confessed in a letter the following day, ‘I wouldn’t have missed the experience of yesterday for the most gorgeous Christmas dinner in England.’” (See Christopher Klein’s “World War 1s Christmas Truce” in History Stories)

The Christmas Truce could not have taken place without the Christmas Story. True, the troops were weary, mud splattered and afraid.

But, Jesus’ birth was a new unfolding in human history, a new way of treating each other, such as the admonition, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Some recognition of that must have influenced soldiers to lay down their arms.

What if we, during this Christmas time, lay down our armor, our protection against our own vulnerability? Being open to hurt and pain is not easy. Can we lay down our armor?

Moreover, there is an on-edge, an eerie anxiousness in our country. We find ourselves in armed camps personally and politically.

On Christmas Eve all across the country Christians will sing: ‘Silent night, holy night! All is calm, all is bright, Round yon Virgin Mother and Child! Holy infant so tender and mild, Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace.”

When we return home with the sound of “Silent Night” still ringing in our ears, may we listen quietly to the sounds around us as we dwell in silence. That will indeed be a Christmas truce.

(Dr. John Campbell is a semi-retired citizen of Brevard.)

 
 

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