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The History of Christmas: Day 12 – The Christmas Truce (1914 CE) December 20, 2012

Posted by Yarnspnr in History of Christmas.
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The History of Christmas
Day 12: The Christmas Truce – 1914 CE

 

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This Christmas saw many American families torn apart because of the war in Iraq. Sons and daughters left parents alone at home. Husbands and wives, separated by the call to active duty, fought the tears of loneliness during what should have been a happy time. And then there are the combatants, both worshiping pretty much the same God, both attacking each other with a vengeance in order to kill and maim.

Going back to the American Revolution, how many wars have been fought that pitted Christian against Christian? The French Revolution followed quickly on the heels of our own. Then came the war of 1812 and the Napoleonic wars, followed by our Civil war, then the Spanish-American war, World War I and World War II.

Amazing when you think about it. Pick your side and listen to the prayers.  One wonders what God thought. Yet out of these conflagrations rose one unique miracle, something that never happened before or after on the same scale.

It started near Ypres, Belgium, and spread up and down across the no-man’s-lands of a Europe torn apart by World War I. Neither the Germans nor the British were thinking about whether Jesus was the reason for the season. Nor were they concerning themselves with the secularization of Christmas. They were too busy fighting a grimy trench war. Then, on the night of December 26th, the true spirit of Christmas touched the men of both armies. What occurred over the next ten days proved that Christmas could even stop a war.

*

France, 1914
Dear Mum,

Somewhere between Houplines and Frelinghien events occurred over the past two days that underscored my faith in the love of man for his fellows. I’ve written you often how I’ve felt that war removes the humanity from human beings. The sight of a companion, dead in a pool of his own blood is a lasting reminder of what this war is truly about. The anger it imbues for a nameless, faceless enemy is easy to understand. So we hurl our shells back at their trenches, hoping to kill as many of them as possible. And on their side, friends died as well. And their anger at us grows daily. This cycle continues on and on as the dead pile up on both sides.

A cold front must have moved in on the 24th. Temperatures dropped quickly. Thankfully, the mud in the trenches froze, making it easier to get around. By nightfall, most of us were shivering with the cold. One of my mates pointed out something unusual happening out across no mans land. There were twinkling lights. The Germans had set Christmas trees and strung lights on their parapets. How odd, I thought.

About an hour later, voices rose up on the German side in song. They sang their version of Silent Night. When they were finished, our boys answered with a carol of our own. This continued well into the night. I listened and joined in when I knew the song. I’ve not that good a voice, Mum, as you know. Many of the carols were about the birth of Jesus. I couldn’t help but wonder what he thought of all this bloodshed between believers. He couldn’t be happy with it.

The next morning, from across no-man’s-land, came a call of, “Don’t Shoot. Don’t Shoot.” Through the fog I saw a German standing halfway between the trenches holding up a Christmas tree. One of our lads jumped out of the trench and walked up to him. The German said, “Here Tommy. For you. Merry Christmas.” Our lad shook his hand and said, “Merry Christmas, Fritz.”

Soon no man’s land was filled with soldiers from both sides, shaking hands, exchanging cigarettes, chocolates and other small gifts. Some of the lads threw down their hats, marked off a pitch and played a game of football. Amazing, Mum. It was all very difficult to believe. I shared a beer with a few of their boys. I couldn’t speak German and most of them couldn’t speak English, but we managed to make our feelings known. You could feel an undercurrent of distrust, even fear to a degree, but this was buried underneath the fascination of simple acts of kindness on both sides.

Today I sit in our trench. The guns are still silent and there are catcalls going on back and forth. Some saying, thank you or happy New Year. But we all know that soon the killing must begin again. I wonder what would happen if we all just threw down our guns and said, “No.” I suppose that’s unreasonable, but the thought did cross my mind. What is there about this time of year that can stop a war and bring even the most hated of enemies together in peace and friendship?

I need to go, Mum. I hope your Christmas was as remarkable as mine. Happy New Year and best to Dad and Kitten.

Love, Frank

*

When upper echelon officers on both sides heard about this they were stunned. Orders to cease the fraternization were sent out immediately. But even this did not stop the spirit of Christmas from enacting its power. Some lower level officers were arrested for not putting a stop to the celebrating. In many areas, however, the truce lasted until New Year’s Day.

The Generals swore that such a truce would never happen again. It hasn’t. Man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man is more important than human kindness. But the truce proved that when people get in touch with the true meaning of Christmas, the meaning that started over four thousand years ago and has been passed down every year thereafter, miracles of vast proportion can and do happen.

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The History of Christmas: Day 8 – Julafred in Norway (1350 CE) December 20, 2012

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The History of Christmas
Day 8: Julafred In Norway – 1350 CE

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Julafred is simply the celebration of Yule. In ancient times, Yule, meaning “feast,” celebrated the winter solstice. That has changed. The holiday is now referred to as “The Peace of Christmas.” One must remember that the harvests of these large farms had to be consumed quickly, before spoilage set in.  The Yule holiday feast provided the perfect venue for reducing the stock of meats and vegetables on hand.

Not much has changed about the way Yule is celebrated though. Holly and evergreens, symbols of the sun’s rebirth are still gathered and displayed as decoration. Julbukk, the Yule Goat, has morphed into Julbukk, the Yule elf. The goat remains in the picture, however, as it pulls the elf’s sleigh.

*

Outside what is now Oslo, Norway, Marin, her daughter, Audny, along with other women from the farm are found in the kitchen, turning a large boar over the hearth. A huge feast is being readied for the entire village. The sounds of male laughter, shouts, threats, and boasts come from another room. Outside, darkness has set in since the early afternoon.

In the large commons the men sat sharing horns of meade. The great hall looked majestic, decorated in all manner of holly and greenery. A huge fireplace plays host to a massive oak log that burned at the rear of the hearth, yet stuck out onto the floor in front, a quarter way into the hall. From time to time one or two of the younger males pushed this log farther into the hearth so it could continue burning. Outside work in the farm village has been reduced to a minimum.

The men enjoyed a reenactment of the hunt which felled the boar turning on its spit in the kitchen. A young man in a mask made of a felted material played the part of the hunted. The killer of the boar embellished his role, to the pleasure of the audience. Children, also in masks, played the part of sheep and cattle in the fields.

In the kitchen, preparations continue. Meats of all sorts, from fish to fowl, must be eaten or they will spoil. Every year, the men and women of the community look forward to this feast. It is a time of Julafred, the peace of Christmas.

Audny, however, has her mind on something else entirely. “Mother, did Julbukk, the Yule Elf, come last night?”

The women had been working since the evening before, sleeping in shifts with their children in the back of the kitchen. Her mother smiled. “So it is rumored, my child.”

“I wish I had stayed awake. I wanted to pet his goats. Will we be home to see?”

“After the feast. I’m sure the old hustomte elf has left you something. He’s a jolly one.”

“Did you leave porridge out for him?”

“Of course my dear, along with a large wedge of cheese and a cup of meade.”

“I hope the trolls didn’t bother him.”

*

Many traditions of our own celebration of Christmas come from Yule.  The use of holly and evergreens as decoration; the Yule log; the Christmas ham; and even the decorating of Christmas trees, have all been handed down to us from the Scandinavians.  You can also see the beginnings of Santa, referring to him as an elf even though his sleigh is pulled by a goat rather than reindeer.  Note also the leaving of food for the elf.  All this has been passed on to us.