Christmas and the Holidays
Wizards in Winter
This year brought a flurry of activity at its end. End of November brings our family a couple of birthdays along with Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving then just rolls into the next month with a couple more birthdays and then the coup de grace of Holidays, Christmas rears its frantic head. It seems when I was a kid, the month of December felt like twelve months of tortuous patience and ravinous doubt packed into those twenty-four days to christmas. These days, it feels like as if I am being pulled by my testicles by two charging elephants towards that fateful day when I either got all the gifts I need for the year or not. And you don't want to be sitting there at christmas with the screwed the neighbor's cat look on your mug. Those types of mess-ups tend to be a bit more permanent than the forgot to feed the dog episodes.
This christmas was no exception to any of these rules. By the time you get to the orgy of paper-ripping you are so stressed from the shopping and traveling that it's more of a relief than a blowout celebration. The only other issue I have with christmas is we now bring in the fight of Christmas vs. The Holidays. It's an easy one folks: call it what you want. It is different things to different people so what does it truly matter? I call it christmas because that's what I have always called it. It doesn't change what it means to me to have any group or people want to call it something else. It is a besmirch upon the holiday to argue about something so pedantic.
We went to Linda's folks' house in Myrtle Creek for a great holiday vacation. There was a lot of family, a lot of food and great watching two teenage girls scream in delight when they got iPod mini's. It's all about the mini's. It was a morning filled with happiness and togetherness and children's eyes lighting up and everyone smiling and drinking early coffee and rubbing sleeping eyes.
It seemed too ironical for words. There, the night before we had been having a terrific battle and the morning after, there we were smoking their cigarettes and they smoking ours.
-- Stanley Weintraub
In the frigid temperatures of December on the Western Front of World War I, an amazing story of goodwill towards men came about in the most unlikely of circumstances. Almost 6 months after the assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand in 1914, the first year in the trenches, two groups of men shuddered in opposing mud pits vying for inches all in the name of king and country. On the morning of December 19th, the day after a fierce battle, a couple of the germans put their hands in the air and began gathering their dead for burial. Pretty soon, the British troops came out and began gathering their dead, also. Shortly the two sides were helping each other with the burials and smoking on a pleasant morning amidst chaos and horror.
An interesting angle on the Germans and the British versus the Belgians and the French led to a less involved war with emotions running a lot higher with the latter than the former. The French declared the war and it wasn't British soil this war was taking place. Even though hundreds of thousands of men had died in the war, even at this early of a stage, the Germans really didn't have the type of animosity toward the British you would expect from two warring countries. A lot of Germans spoke fluent English, some eighty-thousand men had worked in the United Kingdom prior to the war. They were able to communicate over the lines during lulls in the fighting. It got so bad that at some point Brigadier General G.T. Forrestier-Walker issued a directive forbidding fraternization:
"For it discourages initiative in commanders, and destroys offensive spirit in all ranks. . . . Friendly intercourse with the enemy, unofficial armistices and exchange of tobacco and other comforts, however tempting and occasionally amusing they may be, are absolutely prohibited."
This was an afront to the war to any country. Can you imagine the press reports of US Army soldiers hanging out with Al Quaeda?
On Christmas Eve, 1914, the British could see the German soldiers putting up christmas trees and lights over on their side of the trenches. The Germans began shouting "We no shoot if you no shoot!" The firing stopped along infamous Ypres salient for 27 miles to the La Bassee Canal. The British could see some of the Germans coming out of their trench and into the open. The British quickly joined them in the middle of No Man's Land to enjoy each others company exchanging chocolate, cigars and christmas greetings. The officers corps joined the troops a little while after and there was an intense feeling of the insanity of war; these men had no issue with each other, they fought not one another, but at the behest of country and the political actions that government was pursuing. They then picked up the rest of the dead and wounded, clearing an area of about two soccer fields by the time christmas morning rolled around.
Morning came and both sides peered at one another to find out what would happen on the morning of the world's largest celebration of benevolence and giving. When no one fired a shot, they came out and began singing christmas carols, especially "Silent Night," and reciting the 23rd Psalm. Somewhere during this, they brought the famous soccer ball and began to play. Afterwards, they cooked meals together, ate together and exchanged christmas and goodwill. It is easy to think how this could have happened, but this was a treasonous act, punishable by immediate execution from any officer. These men risked their lives for this moment, risked humiliation and disgrace back home.
'In the front trenches [I] took part in what was well known at the time as a truce. We went over in front of the trenches and shook hands with many of our German enemies. A great number of people [now] think we did something that was degrading. The fact is that we did it, and I then came to the conclusion that I have held very firmly ever since, that if we had been left to ourselves there would never have been another shot fired. For a fortnight the truce went on. We were on the most friendly terms, and it was only the fact that we were being controlled by others that made it necessary for us to start trying to shoot one another again.'
-- Sir H. Kinglsey Wood
The truce lasted peacefully for fourteen days. After that, the men on the frontlines for the British were pulled and moved into positions back in England, where they couldn't talk about what happened. This was no small event, they believe there were thousands of men who participated in this truce. Pragmatists label this as nothing more than a blip in history. Romanticists say it was an opportunity for the end of a war. Regardless of which fence you would sit, it was a remarkable event that brings about the true spirit of christmas through the worst of circumstances.
Such things should not happen in wartime. Have you Germans no sense of honor left at all?
-- Cpl. Adolf Hitler of the 16th Bavarians lambasting his comrades for their unmilitary conduct