My Christmas Eve Post for 2018

posted in: Holidays, Peace 20

How do you think of Christmas time? Over the past few decades, I’ve come to see winter as a time of peace. A time to pull inward; a time for personal reflection and a time to breath in the wonder and awe in the world around me.

The story that most connects me to the power of this special time is the one that John McCutcheon sings about called Christmas In The Trenches. It’s based on a true story and I’ve begun to retell that story and  play McCutcheon’s song each Christmas for the past five years now.  Five years! Wow.

Here’s John McCutcheon’s beautiful ballad of one Christmas Eve, back in 1914.

 

 

[learn_more caption=”Here are the lyrics”] My name is Francis Tolliver. I come from Liverpool. Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school. From Belgium and to Flanders, to Germany to here, I fought for King and country I love dear.

It was Christmas in the trenches where the frost so bitter hung. The frozen fields of France were still, no Christmas songs were sung. Our families back in England were toasting us that day, Their brave and glorious lads so far away.

I was lyin’ with my mess-mates on the cold and rocky ground, When across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound. Says I “Now listen up me boys,” each soldier strained to hear As one young German voice sang out so clear.

“He’s singin’ bloody well you know,” my partner says to me. Soon one by one each German voice joined in, in harmony. The cannons rested silent. And the gas cloud rolled no more, As Christmas brought us respite from the war.

Well, as soon as they were finished, and a reverent pause was spent. “God rest ye merry, gentlemen” struck up some lads from Kent. The next they sang was Stille Nacht. “Tis Silent Night,” says I. And in two tongues one song filled up that sky.

“There’s someone comin’ towards us,” the front-line sentry cried. All sights were fixed on one lone figure trudging from their side. His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shone on that plain so bright, As he bravely strode, unarmed, into the night.

Soon one by one on either side walked into no-man’s-land. With neither gun nor bayonet, we met there hand to hand. We shared some secret brandy and we wished each other well, And in a flare-lit soccer  game, we gave ’em hell.

We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home, These sons and fathers far away from families of their own. Young Sanders played his squeezebox; they had a violin, This curious and unlikely band of men.

Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more. With sad farewells, we each began to settle back to war. But the question haunted every heart that lived that wondrous night, “Whose family have I fixed within my sights?”

Twas Christmas in the trenches where the frost so bitter hung. The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung. For the walls they’d kept between us to exact the work of war, Had been crumbled and were gone forever more.

Oh, my name is Francis Tolliver. In Liverpool I dwell. Each Christmas come since World War One I’ve learned its lessons well. For the ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame. And on each end of the rifle, we’re the same.

— John McCutcheon “Christmas in the trenches” 1989[/learn_more]

 

If you want to get a fuller sense of the story, try this YouTube video, The Christmas Truce of 1914. It’s eight and a half minutes long.  Essentially, you’ll hear how there were signs of this coming truce two weeks earlier; the various truces were widely reported in the newspapers of the day. And there’s a one-hour BBC documentary that pulls it all together, excerpted down to thirteen minutes here. 

There are all those earlier posts too, don’t forget.

My Annual Christmas Eve Post For 2017

My Annual Christmas Eve Post (2016)

Annual Christmas Eve Story 2015

A Day When Enemies Stopped Fighting (2014)

Christmas In the Trenches (2013)

 

Until next year, may the peace that passes all understanding be with you during these hectic holiday weeks.  

 

20 Responses

  1. Susan Scott
    | Reply

    Thanks Janet – I read the lyrics you supplied and I felt a little turning in my heart. It’s good to be reminded that even among the darkest times the songs of ‘enemies’ create a bridge of shared humanity.

    A blessed and merry Christmas to you and family!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I first heard this song at a New Year’s Eve gathering and was brought to tears. I have loved John McCutcheon ever since. Thanks for starting us off so early this morning, Susan. And may the peace of this Christmas time find you and yours this year.
      Janet Givens recently posted…My Christmas Eve Post for 2018My Profile

  2. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    May we lay down rifles (hate, discord) and remember to bridge the gap as the soldiers did: “And in two tongues one song filled up that sky.” I remember this profound story and song.. Thank you for re-telling it here.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours, Janet!
    Marian Beaman recently posted…Matryoshka Dolls and Your Great-GrandmotherMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Marian. Yes, I do believe you’ve been with me for each of these posts over the years, and I thank you. What stands out for me here, this year, is this final sentence, “For the ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame. And on each end of the rifle, we’re the same.” Merry Christmas to you and yours.
      Janet Givens recently posted…My Christmas Eve Post for 2018My Profile

  3. Merril D. Smith
    | Reply

    Good morning, Janet. I haven’t heard this song yet this year, so thank you.

    If anyone wants more info: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-story-of-the-wwi-christmas-truce-11972213/
    The truce was only between British and German troops, not French or Russian (who did not celebrate Christmas on the same date).

    Wishing you a holiday season filled with joy, wonder, and peace–and best wishes for the new year.
    Merril D. Smith recently posted…The Week That WasMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      In fact, many French were quite upset with the British, since the Germans were on French soil. One of the documentaries I watched reported that French women spat on passing British soldiers, I imagine this was after word got out. It was heavily reported in local media.

      Happy Holidays, Merril. Joy, wonder, and peace: my favorite combination. Thank you.
      Janet Givens recently posted…My Christmas Eve Post for 2018My Profile

  4. Clive Pilcher
    | Reply

    A lovely, poignant song about humanity in the worst of times. Have a very happy and peaceful Christmas, Janet 😊
    Clive Pilcher recently posted…Wordless Wednesday – My #AdventCalendarMy Profile

  5. Pamela
    | Reply

    I’ve heard about the time the WWI soldiers laid down their arms for Christmas. Some say it’s just a myth, but I prefer to believe that it happened. Recently I’ve been reading stories about WWI. The last book I read was Willa Cather’s ONE OF OUR OWN. It’s magnificent (written in 1922!).
    To peace and kindness, love and laying down of arms in all sense of the word. Happy Holidays, Happy New Year
    xo Pam
    Pamela recently posted…Muskrat LoveMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Pam. I don’t know who your “some” are, but it was widely covered. See the image of the newspaper headline in the post. Thank you for the Willa Cather suggestion. I have added it to my TBD list.

      To the laying down of arms, yes indeed. Happy Holidays.
      Janet Givens recently posted…My Christmas Eve Post for 2018My Profile

  6. Kate Pill
    | Reply

    Thank you Janet – I really enjoyed reading of this.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I’m glad. It’s a wonderful story, literally. No one has found anything similar happening since. Spread the word in Australia for us.
      Janet Givens recently posted…My Christmas Eve Post for 2018My Profile

  7. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — The spirit of this post reminds me of what I tell my clients:

    Enlightenment is recognizing that we are all connected, then consciously living that realization—our thoughts, words, and actions an unshakable reflection of that understanding.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      “And on each end of the rifle, we’re the same.” Oh indeed. Keep spreading the word, Laurie. When the student is ready, the teacher appears.
      Janet Givens recently posted…My Christmas Eve Post for 2018My Profile

  8. kathleen pooler
    | Reply

    I love this post and reminder of what can happen when we put our differences aside and pull together. Merry Christmas to you and Woody and family. Enjoy your peaceful Vermont winter!

  9. Amelia
    | Reply

    Thank you Janet. Have a lovely holiday and say hi to your mom for me.

  10. Fancy
    | Reply

    That image of 1914 is so powerful. Those boys should have been at home with their families.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      “And on each end of the rifle we’re the same.” Words to remember as war rages in so many parts of the world. You’d think this “war to end all wars” would have taught us something. Glad you stopped by. Does Santa come down chimneys there in Ireland as he does here?
      Janet Givens recently posted…My Christmas Eve Post for 2018My Profile

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