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The lasting source of peace at Christmas

Progressive Cattleman Editor David Cooper Published on 23 November 2012

It was Christmas of 1914, just months after the chain of events that plunged Europe into the bloody conflict of World War I.

A confrontation some leaders had predicted would be a quick and decisive contest between nation-states had evolved into a prolonged war defined by ruthless weaponry and trench warfare.

Historian Stanley Weintraub said the carnage of this war was best embodied in the trenches that scarred the landscape, filled with “lice, rats, barbed wire, fleas, shells, bombs, underground caves, corpses, blood, liquor, mice, cats, artillery, filth, bullets, mortars, fire, steel: That’s what war is. It is the work of the devil.”

Submerged in this hopeless terrain of struggle and death, a remarkable event unfolded along the Western Front.

As Christmas Eve arrived, soldiers from both sides, many of them defying orders from superior officers, laid down their weapons and engaged rival forces in a spontaneous and momentary truce.

Casting off their suspicions and mistrust, battlefield enemies began sharing food and drink, small gifts and souvenirs, music and handshakes, albeit for a brief but welcomed stretch of peace.

Weintraub in his book, Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce, recounted soldiers’ stories decades later.

What captured that day of peace most memorably, they recalled, were the stirring Christmas hymns sung from the battlefield trenches.

Each army seemed to have its own Christmas melody, unique to its native homeland and history.

One song in particular, Silent Night, was for most soldiers a familiar tune and a reverent reminder of the humble origin of Christmas.

Silent night, holy night; All is calm, all is bright

Round yon Virgin Mother and Child; Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace; Sleep in heavenly peace

That song has always captured the essential spirit of the holiday more so than any gift, celebration, feast or decoration.

The birth of the Son of God was an event of divine importance that has helped heal and atone a weary world. In no small way, the message of Jesus’ birth, life and death has lifted a weary world from pain and strife.

Few of us will ever endure a Christmas with artillery and bloodshed. But we do feel the anxieties of our age, where anger, rancor and political debate have weakened and jaded our hearts and minds.

The great gift of Christmas is that we can choose to abandon the spiritual trenches that we dig for others and for ourselves.

With the birth of Christ at Christmas, we can find an eternal comfort in the angels’ message. It was true then; it was true in the dark days of World War I and it is true now.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Whatever struggles you have endured, may His glory bless you and your family this Christmas, and may days of good will follow throughout the year.  end mark

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David Cooper
Editor
Progressive Cattleman magazine

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