Monday, December 21, 2009

Joyeux Noel

On Christmas Eve, December 24, 1914, a strange thing happened in several sectors of the trench line that cut across Belgium and France.

The allied English, Scottish and French soldiers, and the German troops facing them across a recently-established No Man’s Land, spontaneously laid down their arms, stood up in their trenches and walked out into that beaten, corpse-strewn zone of death. They greeted each other in a cautious, then friendly, expression of the season’s spirit.

They exchanged chocolate and cigarettes, showed each other pictures of wives and girlfriends, drank together and even engaged in impromptu religious observances and at least one informal soccer match.

In some sectors, the informal truce lasted only part of a day. In others, it is said to have lasted, more or less, until New Year’s.

It was a brief — and for many participants profoundly moving — moment in that maddest of wars, the one they called The Great War until a still greater one that it set in motion eclipsed its unique horrors a generation later.

The High Commands on both sides took a very dim view of such fraternization with the enemy and steps were taken to ensure that no repeat of the spontaneous Christmas Truce occurred again. Years of savage, industrial slaughter also seared away the vestiges of fellow-feeling that still existed in that first Christmas of the war.

But ever since that night in 1914, the Christmas Truce has loomed large as a moment of humanity amidst a numbingly inhuman conflict, a flash of sanity in a world gone suddenly and perhaps irrevocably insane.

Each Christmas season, my family watches the beautiful 2005 French film about the Christmas Truce, “Joyeux Noel.”

It is as powerful a Christmas story as you can find, a hopeful, yet tragic, reminder of the true value of the season: a moment to celebrate the fellowship of man.

A Joyeux Noel to all of you and yours.

Jim Cornelius, Editor

1 comment:

  1. Merry Christmas to all those who have served or are serving our Great Nation in times of war. Your sacrifices and losses are treasured by those whom you have defended.