I. Love. The holidays. Always have. The meaning has changed for me over the years and I wanted to share something that really reflects the spirit of what the holidays mean to me now. I’ve shared this post in previous years and it remains a poignant lesson for me. I give you the legendary Christmas Truce of 1914.
World War I had been underway for nearly five months when British and German troops chose of their own accord to defy orders and declared a truce with one another, because it was Christmas. It began on Christmas Eve late at night as both sides dug vigilantly in their trenches, clutching their weapons, seeing their breath escape their beaten bodies and rise to the stars above. Gradually, between coughs and sniffles, one could hear the soft sound of carols begin to move faintly through the cold winter air:
“Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright.”
And after a few moments, those English voices were joined by those on the other side of the field, in German. That night no shots were fired.
The next morning as British soldiers peered through their scopes, with fingers on their triggers, a lone German soldier climbed cautiously from his trench into the open field carrying no weapon. Then another, and another. The Germans yelled out, in poor English, “Merry Christmas!” And after several anxious seconds a British soldier called out, “Frohe Weihnachten!”
Soldiers from both sides climbed from of their trenches, leaving their weapons behind, and greeted each other on the battlefield with outstretched hands. They shared family photos and even exchanged gifts; cigarettes, little desserts, buttons from their coats. They decorated a nearby pine tree with candles, shoe laces, and scarves.
The soldiers bonded over similar backgrounds as poor working class people, and found more in common with one another than their elitist superiors who gave orders from their wealthy homes by the fireplace. At last, a game of fúbol was initiated with an empty tin can. Together they laughed and played as brothers of the human race, and for a moment they forgot what they were fighting about. Then they pooled their rations together and shared a meal right out on the battle field.
I wish the story ended there. But as the upper ranks got wind of these shenanigans, they quickly sent orders to commence the fighting and soldiers who were sharing pictures of their loved ones with one another only hours before, were now back to the business of killing each other.
But don’t let that tiny detail nullify the miracle that did happen. The fact that we are able to make choices every day of our lives, choices to put down our weapons, defy authority if need be, these are miracles waiting to happen.
Peace is always a choice. We always hear about peace and goodwill during the holiday season, but we continue to find ourselves in one kind of stand off or another. War is the direct result of regular people doing what they’re told. We are taught to hate, distrust, and fear the enemy in order to carry out the dirty deeds of the ruling elite.
War makers collect fortunes playing on the fears and insecurities they have created for us, and we buy it. The fear is manufactured. We don’t need to fear each other. We are all the same.
If we cannot find peace within ourselves, how can we expect it to happen on a global scale? As long as we are under the delusion that some benevolent leader is going to usher us into world peace, we will continue to do what we are told. We cannot wait for peace any longer. Waiting for it pushes it out into the future, which effectively takes us away from the present.
And the present is all we really have. It’s the only time peace can take place. Peace is now. Those soldiers found peace that night, looking up from their death soaked trenches at the starry sky above. And no, it didn’t last, but it was real in that moment. They were free. And so are we.
Once you find peace, goodwill springs forth naturally. All people are good people. And if you find any exceptions to this, you are simply not at peace. Those people who you think are bad people are actually good people who likely haven’t yet found peace either.
Every living being is deserving of goodwill. And the ability to show goodness, kindness, compassion, this is something we all have (because we are all good people). The soldiers on that battlefield were not exceptional. But they were good. The choice to do good is always ours, and it is always available, and when we do good, even if fear is present, we often find peace in the very act itself.
I said earlier that I wished the story had ended with all nations coming together in brotherly love, but as I write this, I am realizing that the fact that it was not a panacea for world war makes it so much more powerful and closer to the truth.
When we hear “peace on earth” we think it has to do with some magical time when nations will all come together in harmony and nobody will ever hurt one another ever again, like some kind of spell will take us over. But that puts the responsibility on something other than ourselves. Peace is not something that happens to us from some outside force. It’s already in us. We just have to choose it.
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him . . . We need not wait to see what others do.” –Mahatma Gandhi
Have a warm and memorable holiday!
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