While looking for a GLEANER story, I uncovered a most intriguing event. Historians mark a lull in World War I where enemy soldiers stopped the war in order to celebrate Christmas on the frontlines.
As Christmas Eve 1914 approached, soldiers realized they would not be returning to family tables for Christmas, as promised. There would be cold barracks in place of happy hearths, no merrymaking sleigh rides, but the grim realities of rifles. "Food was scarce, the rats and the lice had taken over the trenches ..."1 "The soldiers — unequipped to face the rigors of the cold and rain — found themselves wallowing in a freezing mire of mud and the decaying bodies of the fallen."2 As the night began, memories of home, family and civility flooded the GI's minds and Christmases past, like waves, washed over their minds.
Out of the cold night, bands of German soldiers assembled small flickering Christmas trees (gifts of their government). As they did this, they sang carols. Across No Man's Land, the area between the two battling armies, the British recognized the hymns, looked at the brigade of lights, paused for a moment, wondered if it was a trick — and then sang heartily back.
The Christmas Truce of 1914 or "Christmas in the Trenches," later romanticized in the block-buster movie Jeux Noel, lasted the entire Christmas Day and on some frontlines up to New Year's Day along many trenches. British, French and German soldiers in merriment exchanged brandy, letters, pictures from home, sacred rations and chocolate candies with enemies. In yuletide, warriors, like giddy school children, played soccer (who won varies on the historian's country), buried each other's dead and sang "Stille Nacht."
"And in two tongues one song filled up that sky,"3 writes John McCutcheon, performer/songwriter.
War memorabilia today shows officers in full regalia, standing eye to eye conversing pleasantly — goodwill trumping all lines.
"The cannons rested silent, the gas clouds rolled no more,
As Christmas brought us respite from the war,"3 McCutcheon writes.
And the journalist in me recalled another truce. In the first one, it's possible the most sanguine angel begged: "Please let us go. It will be okay. It's not like we're singing on Main Street, Bethlehem. We're just going to sing to a few shepherds. Even if the shepherds tell their story, no one is going to believe simple shepherds."
In that truce, I like to think the Father answered, "I'm waging a war on sin down there. Do you know how putrefying sin is? Sin has separated our troops. I've commenced to trying to save them. But it's not safe for angels down there. They make slaves of each other, harm their children, hurt their neighbors, and betray their families. They're evil day and night."
And then I imagine the angels persisting: "But ... you're already waging Operation War on Sin. You just sent Him ... Please ... it's just a temporary truce."
And the "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" Christmas Truce was born — a spiritual trove, not of Hollywood making or Disney magic, but heaven and earth reconciled if only for a time in No Man's Land.
Back to War
And then I read McCutcheon's saddest line regarding WWI ...
"Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more.
With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war."3
Some war historians say one side waved "Merry Christmas." The other side waved back "Thank you." The rifles taken back up, two shots rang in the air, but historians everywhere record it as — Humanity's Finest Moment.
And so with the Angel Truce, heaven was heaven once more. And earth went back to being earth. Shepherds wiped the stardust from their eyes. The angels returned to heaven, and the shepherds went about trying to convince their respective villages they really had been privy to an angel choir. And biblical scholars everywhere mark it — Humanity's Only Moment.
But for that moment both sang —
"And in two tongues one song filled up that sky."3
And every cell in our fallible, terrible, sinful, bending selves truly loves, re-loves, lives and lives again for that Christmas TRUCE.
1 "All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 | Minnesota Public Radio News." Minnesota Public Radio. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. .
2 "First World War.com - Feature Articles - The Christmas Truce." First World War.com - A Multimedia History of World War One. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. .
3 ^ a,b,c,d,e, "CHRISTMAS IN THE TRENCHES Lyrics - JOHN MCCUTCHEON." Song Lyrics. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. .
Photos obtained from the web.
"'Twas Christmas in the trenches, where the frost so bitter hung.
The frozen fields of France were still, no Christmas song was sung."3
— John McCutcheon