Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Greatest Example of Christmas Spirit...EVER!!!

Nowadays, people are so focused on buying that perfect gift, that it isn't until the last minute that people get swept up in the Christmas Spirit. But what is the Christmas Spirit? Is it about being selfless? Being more friendly? Perhaps being kinder? Being a nicer person? Well it is all of that and you know, "peace on earth and good will to men." Now when we look at these examples of the Christmas Spirit the last thing we could ever relate them to is war. But wait, there is one example and if you don't believe in miracles, peace, the Christmas Spirit or what have you, I'd like you to sit tight, grab a cup of eggnog and get ready to feel the Christmas Spirit rush through you: The Christmas Truce of 1914 may be the greatest example of Christmas Spirit and good will to men...ever.

The image above is what most people recognize from World War I. The image of trench warfare and the horrors of "no mans land" are what we learn and are left with. The idea of a peaceful day is not even imaginable when discussing WWI, but there is one instance when it happened during the most wonderful time of the year. Now, without going into the details, causes and effects of WWI, I will just be retelling a story worth retelling every Christmas season to all the Grinches out there. The Christmas Truce was unplanned and unexpected. By Christmas of 1914, the war had been raging for about five months, and the men in the trenches were longing for home but more importantly peace. After the Germans failed attempt to take Paris in the fall of 1914, it seemed both sides were ready to take a long winters nap. And that's exactly what they did, the war almost came to a stand still. There was no fighting but only the building of defenses, so much building the trenches ran from the North Sea to the Swiss boarder. By this time both sides were exhausted and hunkered down for the winter and holiday season.

So, how does one exactly pause the "war to end all wars?" Well it's that guy with the tree but we'll get to him later. As Christmas Day came closer there were several attempts for a cease fire during the holidays, none of which were made by the German, Austrian, Italian, French or British governments. Yet, on the battlefield there was a sense of an unofficial cease fire. So how did this infamous truce begin? Well on Christmas Eve, the German soldiers began decorating the trenches, as odd as that sounds. How does one decorate a trench? In the same way we decorate our house today. The Germans placed candles along the trenches, put up Christmas Trees and even lined their bunkers with holly and wreaths made of evergreens. During this time of peace, another type of war was stirring and that was battle of the Christmas carols. As the Germans struck first with "Oh Tannenbaum" (That's "Oh Christmas Tree" for you none German speaking folks.) The Brits fired right back with "Silent Night" (Or "Stille Nacht" for my German speaking readers.) The war then got uglier as the two sides yelled Christmas wishes and greetings to each other. Talk about the horrors of war! Then one brave German soldier rose and lifted a Christmas Tree decorated with candles above his head and ventured out into "no mans land." This would then officially begin the Christmas Truce of 1914.

After the British realized this wasn't some crazy sneak attack plan by Jerry, they too made their way out of the trenches. It was at this point that the two sides meet for the first time, in a peaceful manor, since the wars start. In Christmas tradition the soldiers exchanged gifts with each other: food, tobacco, candies, newspapers and the thing that makes the holidays great...alcohol. The troops even traded helmets, buttons, hats, guns, and other military goods as souvenirs. There was even a football (soccer) match between the two sides and the Germans won, 3-2. The celebration lasted until January 6th on some parts of the line. The time allowed men to escape the realities of the war, unwind, regain a sense of normalcy and allowed for them to bury their brothers in arms. Both sides gathered to bury the dead, enemies now morning the loss of  men fallen in battle. Yet the truce was very much seen as a bad thing by the British and German leaderships. Orders were sent out prohibiting these meetings, but they were ignored. The Christmas Truce of 1914 was something special, it happened during one of the worlds most darkest moments, and it was a glimmer of hope. One could say it was the overwhelming power of the Christmas Spirit that rest in all of us, even in the worst of times.

The Truce received some media coverage as well. In England, reports of the Truce hit the papers a week after and expressed the joy and worry soldiers had during it. The German paper criticized those troops who took part in the Truce. However, in France there was almost no reports of it. But the story of the Truce spread through each military and there was several attempts to make the Truce an annual event. However, that would never come to be. The British and German military leaders planned artillery barrages and attacks on Christmas Eve and Day for the remainder of the war. Yet, recent research has shown that one more Truce may have happened in 1916. This time German and Canadian troops revived the practice of Christmas on the battlefield. Unfortunately for historians the only record of this comes from a soldier who was killed several days after the Truce ended. So the war would then continue on as planned and the Christmas Truce would become somehow forgotten amongst battles, casualties and legends of World War I.

Now what is it we are supposed to take away from this? Well I think there is a lot we can learn here. First, I think the Christmas Truce is a reminder to us that there are much more important things in life then ourselves and our own agendas. Second, the Christmas season is not about that perfect gift or the most expensive gift. It is about the time we get to spend with loved ones. Which brings me to my third point! Christmas should be regarded as a time for family and friends, a time in which we gather in good company and spirits. We can discuss the Truce all day, but it's Christmas, you shouldn't be reading this (but thank you). The important thing to take away is that the Spirit of Christmas is something that obviously can't be stopped. Every year we all have it hit us like a 18 wheeler barreling down the highway, but it hits us all at different times and for some, it hits us too late and we miss out on the joy of the holidays. So let's try not to let it pass by, as these men who tried to hold onto it with everything they could. They faced the something worse then any of us could ever imagine, yet still kept Christmas alive in their hearts. I feel in today's world we place so much value on the materialistic that we forget what is truly important. So go enjoy Christmas, spend time with friends and family, laugh, converse, drink some eggnog, go sing some Christmas carols, light the yule log, grab someone under the mistletoe, hell do all the cliche things that make Christmas great and just remember how much those men wanted the same feeling we are enjoying today. I'd like to wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and may all your Christmas dreams come true.

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