Christmas is the season of miracles, as it is centered around the birth of Jesus Christ. Countless miracles, large and small have happened around Christmas and hep define the holiday. A spirit of goodwill always seems to fill the air this season.
This year, and this evening, in particular, take some time to remember one of the greatest of Christmas miracles, one that happened 103 years ago tonight.
The winter of 1914 was a notably cold and wet one, and no one knew that better than the men of the British, French, Belgian, and German armies, many of whom had to spend days and weeks of the freezing season sat in waterlogged trenches. Moving wasn’t an option, so much as sticking your head above your parapet invited the bullet of an enemy towards you, or a hail of artillery fire that could kill not only you but all of the men near you. It was truly a miserable existence.
The men in the trenches thought they would be home by now, they were promised a war over by the time the leaves fell. However, that was not the case. Thousands upon thousands of men, many of them only in their early stages of adulthood, had lost their lives in the fields and forests of France and Belgium that year. Single days had cost as much as 27,000 lives alone. Yet, in this field of misery, for a short time, humanity shone through the dark.
On the night of December 24th, 1914, the front lines of the British army came upon a puzzling sight: lights, hundreds of them, upon the German parapets. Closer inspections revealed the source of the lights: Tannenbaum, or Christmas trees. Initial suspicions of a trap soon evaporated when the men began to hear the sound of singing across the fields. The German army was singing. Not wanting to be outdone, the British joined in, and soon whole areas of the front line where hours earlier the only sounds to hear were of gunfire and death, Christmas carols floated through the air.
Singing was not the end of it though, soon, brave men on both sides stood up in their trenches and walked towards their former enemies without bearing any arms. These initial brave acts inspired others, and soon whole units and battalions of men had emerged from their trenches. The men approached each other bearing gifts brought to the front line; cigars, chocolate, biscuits, rum, candies, and other goods were soon exchanged between the two sides.
Fraternization between the two armies was not entirely uncommon at this stage of the war, but ceasing hostilities on this scale was unprecedented.
The next day continued the festivities, men openly walked out of their trenches to hang about in the area between the lines known as no-mans-land. The dead from the sides were collected and buried, more goods were exchanged, religious services were had, and in some places, impromptu soccer games broke out between the sides.
However, this could not go on forever, there was still a war going on. When senior officers caught wind of these truces along the lines, they responded by ordering artillery bombardments to discourage any brave soul from leaving the safety of their trenches. In some sectors, truces were unofficially held even as long as the New Year, but eventually, the machinations of modern war started back up, and would not stop for another 4 years.
Millions of men were killed and maimed in those trenches in a war that redefined the world and set the stage for the rest of the 20th century, but in that short period of time around Christmas of 1914, humanity broke through the darkness and destruction, and friendship, faith, and survival prevailed over the seemingly unstoppable tides of war.
In times like these, that some argue are darkened on an unprecedented level, we should remember to look back upon the deeds of our ancestors, and remember that even in the darkest night, a single candle of hope can light the world.
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