Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 18, 2006
Sing out a heartfelt 'Merry Christmas'
Secular sentiments threaten to silence the joy of Christ's birth
My Glass is Half Full
By MARK PICKUP
A strange event happened during the early months of the First World War. On Christmas Eve of 1914, an unofficial truce was declared amongst German and Allied troops along the front line trenches of Flanders astride borders of France and Belgium. The incident was detailed by author Stanley Weintraub in his book Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce (Penguin, 2001).
Men who were enemies the day before - and would be again a day hence - suspended the insanity of war in a surreal Christmas spirit of "you no shoot, we no shoot." What happened that night was unprecedented in the terrible history of war.
At 6 p.m. the sound of shells and sniper-fire surprisingly stopped. A field artillery captain later recalled, "Things went positively dead; there was not a sound. Even our own pet sniper went off duty. A very excited infantry officer came along and told us that all fighting was off, and the men were fraternizing in between the trenches. We had seen lights flashing on the parapets earlier in the evening and there was a great deal of noise going on."
The "lights flashing" were make-shift Christmas trees. Belgian chaplain Josef van Ryckeghem recalled the Germans sang "in voices at first wavering, then firmer, swelling to a mighty Christmas carol. One of our men risked his head across the entrenchment, then another, then more. Cigars, chocolate and all kinds of knick-knacks were thrown to each other."
Seasonal greetings were shouted across the trenches. German soldiers shouted, "English soldiers! English soldiers! Happy Christmas!" Across No Man's Land between the opposing trenches drifted Silent Night - Stille Nacht. British soldiers shouted for more and were met by German voices singing O Tannenbaum (O Christmas Tree).
Opposite the British forces at St. Yves was the 134th Saxon army. Lieut. Kurt Zehmisch of the 134th's 11th company slipped through the barbed wire separating the enemies and met with an Englishman who bore a gift of tobacco.
Both sides shouted approval and applauded. More candles were placed along the trenches, more Christmas carols and songs sung.
Zehmisch wrote in his diary, "I stayed awake the entire night. And it was a wonderful night."
Before long, soldiers from both sides were walking about freely in No Man's Land, retrieving their wounded and burying their dead and exchanging Christmas greetings. The unofficial truce welled up among the troops despite strict orders to continue fighting.
On Christmas Day, a British soldier recalled, "We got out of our trenches in the morning and played football, and then went out in front (of the line) and walked over to meet (the Germans). We shook hands and exchanged souvenirs." It was the most extraordinary thing.
G.A. Farmer of the Westminster Rifles said he "found our men playing football at the back of the(ir) trench, and the enemy walking about on top of their trench (and watching). It was hard to think we were at war with one another." A Welsh captain and German lieutenant arranged a soccer match on No Man's Land. (The Germans won 3-2.)
The strange but moving Christmas ended. Fighting resumed. The insanity of war continued until Nov. 11, 1918. Thirty-seven million people were killed or maimed. World War I was described as the "war to end all wars" but 21 years later the horrors began anew when the Second World War began.
War on Christmas
I could continue about the madness of war, but that's fodder for a different column. Instead, I am going to write about the war on Christmas.
The German and British orders to continue fighting on Christmas 1914 could not quash their troops' cultural memory, imbedded as children, of that angelic choir singing across the ages: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will toward men."
Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw later confirmed "German and English soldiers upset their officers by leaving their trenches to talk and smoke and play soccer ball with each other."
It was, after all, Christmas. Both sides were products of western civilization rooted in Christianity. The Messiah's stable birth set in motion the way to his crucifixion and resurrection. From these events, the Western world found its religion, built its cathedrals, formed its art, music, literature and customs for close to 2,000 years. Those roots called to the troops on Christmas Eve more than bullets, mortar shells, bellowing commanders, or even love of one's homeland.
Christian, not cult
In the Second World War, Nazi Heinrich Himmler tried to replace Christian Christmas symbols with ancient Germanic cult objects, which the German population rejected. They chose instead to obstinately cling to Christian symbols and real meaning of Christmas.
Seventy years later, the war on Christmas continues. Modern secularists and neo-pagans have taken over much of the media and officialdom.
The tyranny of political correctness is banishing Nativity scenes from public places. Stores prohibit signage or greetings that use the word Christmas. "Christmas" contains the word "Christ."
Christmas carols are replaced with songs about snow, marshmallows, hot chocolate and reindeer, not glory to God or proclaiming "peace on earth good will toward men."
Will modern troops of shoppers remove Christ from Christmas and reduce the holy season to just another secular holiday?
Is this generation too removed from the Christianity of western civilization, or forgotten the memory of those institutions and customs previous generations knew and held dear? Christmas reminds us of the divine love that gave rise to any true greatness humanity has ever attained.
Keep Christ in Christmas: Like the song says, "He's the reason for the season."
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