The Christmas Truce of 2010
December 15, 2010
A white Christmas it was in March! This picture is from last spring and we pretended the timing was perfect. Now, in this holiday season, maybe we can pretend that the timing of this holiday is perfect if only to remember how fortunate we are and for whom and what we are grateful for.
The economy, healthcare, education, the state of poverty and human suffering, the great losses during this decade of war, …how can we possibly see any of these when the snow covers the roads and the sky makes the white so pristine?
Having just returned from Europe, where it was cold, snowy, and indeed the holiday season, I am ever aware of how spared we are here in America from the scars of the world wars and the histories of bloodshed that span hundreds of years in Europe. Not to say we have not had our battles or joined those of others. Rather, the scars that are made obvious by the ruins among cathedrals along the Danube, by the histories that become alive in new buildings next to those hundreds of years old.
In this next picture of the memorial garden at the Synagogue in Budapest, the second largest in Europe, the headstones and trees seem to rest together. If one does not know that this is a mass grave for 2200 victims of the Holocaust, it might look like a peaceful garden. My first picture was last week; the black and white was in January, 1944, when the ghetto was liberated and bodies were amassed for burial.
Memorial Garden a the Synagogue in Budapest
The liberation of the Ghetto and burial at the Synagogue
The stories of the world wars are alive in Europe because the scars remain ever visible. Cathedrals dating back hundreds of years are described in pieces: which windows were saved and which parts were bombed and rebuilt.
Nonetheless, I remain moved by the human spirit that does recover and can, each year, celebrate holidays together and begin a year anew. Chanukah began early this year (Dec. 1) and Christmas is in front of us. Being in Europe during this season makes the dates seem irrelevant to the spirit of the peoples who come together to look at the world anew.
Last year, I wrote about the Christmas Truce, the most famous of which has been become mythic in its meaning. About 100,000 German and British troops were amassed at the Western Front, each prepared to brutal war. The Germans, began decorating their trenches…and eventually singing carols. The British listened and finally, the two battalions at war with each other declared an unofficial truce on Christmas Eve, 1914. They exchanged stories, food, and helped bury their dead. This picture perhaps tells more than I can write. But, the calling of the place where they stand, “No Man’s Land” is as telling, when war robs everyone of a place.
This is what I wrote last year and perhaps I can offer it again as I feel the same angst and challenge as I did last year at this time.
Am I really dreaming of things that can only happen in dreams? Or is it possible that in our individual humanity, it the core of who we are, we can actually just stop killing each other? The economy will recover, but lives changed by wars remain changed and the recovery is far more difficult, hardly measured in a stock market or interest rates.
So, I include the Christmas Truce Carol as it is as appropriate now as it was last year:
In Flanders on the Christmas morn
The trenched foemen lay,
the German and the Briton born,
And it was Christmas Day.
The red sun rose on fields accurst,
The gray fog fled away;
But neither cared to fire the first,
For it was Christmas Day!
They called from each to each across
The hideous disarray,
For terrible has been their loss:
“Oh, this is Christmas Day!”
Their rifles all they set aside,
One impulse to obey;
‘Twas just the men on either side,
Just men — and Christmas Day.
They dug the graves for all their dead
And over them did pray:
And Englishmen and Germans said:
“How strange a Christmas Day!”
Between the trenches then they met,
Shook hands, and e’en did play
At games on which their hearts were set
On happy Christmas Day.
Not all the emperors and kings,
Financiers and they
Who rule us could prevent these things —
For it was Christmas Day.
Oh ye who read this truthful rime
From Flanders, kneel and say:
God speed the time when every day
Shall be as Christmas Day.
by Frederick Niven (1878-1944)
I offer, for myself, the Christmas Truce of 2010, setting aside my own cynicism and disbelief and replace it with the hope and wonder that I had as a child. I feel grateful to be able to write to all of you using technologies that have made the world more transparent and peoples far away more able to feel connected. I am fortunate to live in a time of scientific discovery that has eradicated many fatal illnesses and brought hope for a future of better health. I see philanthropy being redefined as millions of people give little to help so very many. This is a good time to be alive, with the world changing so fast that tragedy can move into hope because time pushes us into the future.
Yes, I am an optimist in this season when it is so easy to forget the Christmas Truce of 1914, a moment when the human spirit triumphed over tragedy and the singing of Silent Night, Holy Night, in Flanders Fields by exhausted soldiers changed what is possible for all of us.
Dallas and I wish each of you a good, warm, and loving holiday, that next year shall bring peace, hope, health, and an inspired future.