It was a lot like the opening to Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities in its dichotomy and juxtaposition: a season of peace amidst a great and terrible war which would eventually claim over 15 million lives.
Pope Benedict XV had offered a plea earlier that December “that the guns may fall silent at least on the day the angels sang.”
And then, something miraculous happened — the fighting stopped. All across the the Western Front of the Great War, a spontaneous and unofficial cease fire was declared.
For the first time, it was no longer about trying to destroy one another simply because they were on the “wrong” side. Instead, the “wrong” sides met in no man’s land — the definitive space on the battlefield between the trenches of the forward lines of troops.
According to Robert Schirrman, a German holding the Bernhardstein in the Vosges, “When the Christmas bells sounded in the villages of the Vosges behind the lines .. something fantastically unmilitary occurred. German and French troops spontaneously made peace and ceased hostilities; they visited each other through disused trench tunnels, and exchanged wine, cognac and cigarettes for Westphalian black bread, biscuits and ham. This suited them so well that they remained good friends even after Christmas was over.”
British, Germans, and French alike exchanged ham and handshakes, aid and assistance, cognac and carols, stories, souvenirs and cigarettes — each in their own native tongue. And they understood. Hostilities ceased. Gunshots were replaced with the clinking of canteen cups toasting. Yelling and confusion was replaced with laughter and jokes.
On many fields, enemies in opposing trenches met and performed joint burial ceremonies in honor of the fallen. Nationality was little more than a moot point in their rediscovered common humanity.
‘Tis the season, indeed. The season for giving and caring, for joy and sharing. And it’s the season for helping us to rediscover our own humanity in one another. To realize that we are all more alike than we think.
And it’s the season to spread the joy to everyone around you in any way that you can. A simple smile to a stranger, a hug for somebody you barely know, a wish and a prayer for an enemy.
And maybe, just maybe, you can hear the angels singing, if only in your own heart.
Merry Christmas. May peace and tidings of joy be upon you and yours this holiday season and everyday of your life.