Christmas in the trenches
Sojomail - December 24, 2003
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Christmas in the trenchesby Jim Wallis
"Silent Night," by Stanley Weintraub, is the story of Christmas Eve 1914 on the World War I battlefield in Flanders. As the German, British, and French troops facing each other were settling in for the night, a young German soldier began to sing "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht." Others joined in. When they had finished, the British and French responded with other Christmas carols.
Eventually, the men from both sides left their trenches and met in the middle. They shook hands, exchanged gifts, and shared pictures of their families. Informal soccer games began in what had been "no-man's-land." And a joint service was held to bury the dead of both sides.
The generals, of course, were not pleased with these events. Men who have come to know each other's names and seen each other's families are much less likely to want to kill each other. War seems to require a nameless, faceless "enemy."
So, following that magical night the men on both sides spent a few days simply firing aimlessly into the sky. Then the war was back in earnest and continued for three more bloody years. Yet the story of that Christmas Eve lingered - a night when the angels really did sing of peace on earth.
Folksinger John McCutcheon wrote a song about that night in Belgium, titled "Christmas in the Trenches," from the viewpoint of a young British solder. Several poignant verses are:
"The next they sang was "Stille Nacht," "Tis 'Silent Night'," says I.
Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man's land
Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more
My prayer for the New Year is for a nation and world where people can come out of their trenches and together sing their hopes for peace. We here at Sojourners will carry on that mission, and we invite you to continue on the journey with us.
Blessings to you and your families.
For the complete lyrics to John McCutcheon's song, see: http://www.folkmusic.com/record/r_water.htm#Christmas
A new book by German author Michael Jurgs draws from previously unseen letters and diaries to detail the Christmas truce of 1914. Read about it at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1082392,00.html
For more history of the 1914 Christmas truce, including many first-person accounts, visit: http://history1900s.about.com/library/weekly/aa122100a.htm?once=true&