Do you have a tradition of watching specific shows during the holiday season? Perhaps The Nutcracker, Elf, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Bad Santa or It’s a Wonderful Life? I’d encourage you to add a performance or two to your list. The play, All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914, and the movie, Joyeux Noel, offer a timely Christmas history lesson.
Yuletide on the Western Front
Both performances — based on real people and true events — are set in the trenches five months after the start of World War I. At this point, more than 500,000 soldiers had been injured or wounded. Pope Benedict XV encouraged leaders to call a truce for Christmas, but leaders on all sides of the battlefield refused.
Instead, the soldiers on both sides huddled in freezing weather. Lonely for home, some started singing carols – and enemy soldiers in the nearby trench joined in. Eventually, German, British and French soldiers emerged from their posts and ventured onto No Man’s Land. There they shared song, food and drink, presents and stories about home. They also worked together to bury the dead.
These impromptu celebrations weren’t isolated cases. Approximately 100,000 troops participated in the Christmas truce at various points along the Western Front. Some of the truces lasted until New Year’s Day. However, the military commanders eventually prevailed and battle resumed.
These impromptu Christmas truces never happened again, perhaps because the use of poisonous gas moved the trenches further away from each other. Sadly, the war lasted until 1918, resulting in the death of more than 17 million soldiers and civilians. Another 20 million were injured. The cast of All Is Calm reported that most of the men portrayed in the play didn’t survive the war.
Finding Hope and Compassion
I found that both performances offered a glimpse of the hope, compassion and possibility that are available, even in difficult times. These shows also suggest that we all have more in common than we may initially think. The differences we cling to — whether we’re talking about the enemy in a World War I trench or a person with a different skin color — are self-imposed barriers created in our minds.
Personally, I find the Christmas history lesson provided by these two performances to offer the perfect message going into 2017. I hope you find the time to watch one of these performances this holiday season. Perhaps these performances can serve as inspiration as you create a thriving and diverse community in the New Year.
Resource for This Post:
Turner, A. (2016). Christmas Miracle: Houston Clergy Honor Truce of 1914 as a Moment of Peace During War. Houston Chronicle.