OPINION – World War I, supposedly “the war to end all wars,” was one of the most violent occurrences to ever scar this good Earth.
It was vicious, painful, terrifying. Mustard gas, bayonets, hand-to-hand trench warfare on the battlefront compounded the inherent violence of war.
But, a miracle occurred on Christmas Day in 1914.
Five months into the war, the European Western Front was raging, the body count rising with frightening speed.
But, something happened on those bloody battlefields in the days before Christmas, something that comes with the magic of Christmas.
It began when soldiers from both sides refused to take direct aim at the enemy. Cannon fire continued, but the targets were open, unmanned stretches of land instead of the opposing troops. Men from both sides started yelling seasonal greetings to each other in the run-up to the holiday, eventually building a trust and goodwill to the point where they were trusting enough to venture into the No-man’s Land between the two sides to exchange small gifts and holiday greetings. In some places, they put down their weapons and organized massive soccer matches, some with as many as 50 men to a side. In others, they simply bartered with each other for souvenirs, from cigarettes to schnapps; uniform buttons to food.
The war was stopped for a short time, not by some hammered-out agreement between governments or diplomats, but by the soldiers themselves who decided to honor the holiday instead of the order of war.
The unofficial truce allowed both sides to claim the bodies of their dead comrades in an act of compassion and humanity. As they mingled, soldiers from both sides spoke, found their commonality, sang Christmas carols, embraced the essence of the holiday.
Hostilities eventually resumed, but for a moment, the miracle that can be Christmas grasped the souls of these men who risked severe punishment for their actions. Officers were reprimanded and warned that any such notion would not be tolerated in the future.
Today, Christmas Eve, is not usually a time to reminisce of war and battle, but the story is one we can benefit from, perhaps even be encouraged by, to seek peace, whether within our own souls or for the benefit of the greater world.
A truce would be good right now.
As a nation, we’ve been embroiled in a nagging war for 12 years now, paying a horrible price in lives and treasure. For more than a decade we have endured some of the worst financial times in our history with fortunes lost and many doubts cast upon the once-proud American Dream.
It has trickled down to the state and local levels where we have seen the continuing scandals and bitterness that work to estrange us when we should draw closer and talk, without prejudice, about our differences.
But we have become polarized, isolated from each other, exclusionary, refusing to be inclusive of all people in our communities – from our small towns to big cities, states, nation, and world, which is much smaller than it once was.
The pursuit of peace and harmony is not a forfeiture of self, rather it is an embracing of others, creating a larger self that is more intent on finding solutions to the problems that divide us, offering understanding and compassion for those in need, being inclusive of those who have been shunned.
Instead of always looking for that “payback” we so often seek in a vengeful strike, we should think more about paying it forward and thinking of “we” instead of “me.”
We’ve seen religion used in a lot of different ways recently. It’s been hijacked by some, disregarded by others for multitude reasons, from personal beliefs to doctrine.
The one thing, I think, we can all agree on is something the faithful and faithless find in common: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
Unfortunately, we have all seen greed and the lust for power tarnish the human soul, diminish the capacity for love, remove the ability to extend comfort and compassion and that is sad.
However, there are still, I pray, enough among us who understand that kindness, peace, and love are not confined within religion, ethnicity, or citizenship. These aims are neither the domain of the wealthy or poor; the strong or infirm; but are shared in the heart by king and peasant alike.
So, the greatest Christmas wish I can think of is a paraphrase from Luke 2:14:
… on Earth, peace to men and women of good will.
No bad days!
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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