Christmas in No Man’s Land
By Joan Janzen
As Christmas approached, a mom constantly reminded her 4-year-old that Santa was watching her. When the pre-schooler finally visited Santa, she hopped off his lap, and said, “Oh and Santa, you don’t have to watch me anymore … I’m always good.”
We’re all a lot like that 4-year-old, believing we’re all ‘good’ in spite of all the division we’re seeing play out in our world. Both the politically left-leaning and right-leaning, the socialists and the capitalists, western Canadians and eastern Canadians, those in favour of mandates and those who aren’t, all appear unable to come together and reconcile with one another. The divisions are blatantly obvious, just as they were over a century ago.
In the summer of 1914, the countries of Europe went to war, believing the conflict would be over by Dec. 25. By December, trench warfare had settled in; soldiers were killing their enemies. Heavy rain created mass mud in the the trenches and No Man’s Land that separated the opposing sides, making life miserable for all.
Pope Benedict XV’s plea to the leaders of Europe for a truce on Dec. 25, was ignored, however the German emperor tried to boost morale by sending Christmas trees to the front. The Germans sang hymns such as “Stille Nacht” and voices on the Allied lines responded by singing “Silent Night”. Many Germans had worked in Britain before the war, so were able to communicate in English.
Lower ranking British officers defied the authority of higher ranking officers, and ordered their men not to fire unless fired upon. Early Christmas Day German soldiers responded, emerging from their trenches and waving their arms to show they meant no harm. The enemies met in No Man’s Land where they played football and shared food and drink. They held joint services to bury their dead and reinforced their trenches.
Among the units who observed the cease-fire, there were men who didn’t approve. Hitler (a dispatch runner at the time) was one of those who disapproved. British and German generals quickly took steps to ensure no future fraternization between their men would occur. There were no Christmas truces held in 1915 and beyond.
But on that momentous 1914 Christmas morning, the soldiers couldn’t believe it was happening, as the celebration of the birth of Christ brought them together, as nothing else could. Jesus came over 2,000 years ago, and is still offering reconciliation to people all over the earth, first of all to Himself and then among the people on earth.
The soldiers on both sides of No Man’s Land were hungry for reconciliation, fellowship and family. A quote I read appropriately says, “The spirit of Christmas fulfils the greatest hunger of mankind”.
This Christmas I leave you with an ancient song, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward humankind.” May it live on in our hearts and be practically applied in our lives, so we can tell Santa he doesn’t have to watch us anymore.
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