OPINION – Christmas was a lot simpler when I was a kid. Beyond the lights, the songs and holiday pageantry, I knew that the net result was going to be presents.
Lots of presents.
I was even okay with the fact that the only present my sisters and I were each allowed to open on Christmas Eve somehow always turned out to be pajamas.
It wasn’t until I was a young man that I started to seriously think about what the Christmas season really signified and why it inspired so many people to act on their noblest impulses.
I’d like to recommend two Christmas stories that beautifully illustrate the concept of “peace on earth, and goodwill toward men.”
The first story is a work of fiction known by a couple of different titles. When I first read it, it was titled “My Best Christmas Ever” although alternate versions are titled “The Rifle”.
The authorship of this story is not clear but it is a beautiful tale of kindness and generosity.
The story is set in the late 1800s and involves a young man who is eagerly anticipating his parents giving him his first rifle for Christmas. He’s not a selfish young man but his desires are more self-centered than he realized.
His father gives him a heartfelt lesson in recognizing the needs of others and the joy that comes from sacrificing deeply to bless those in need.
You can read it for yourself here.
This story struck a nerve with me because it reminded me of the kind of selfless kindness that had been shown to my family.
For several years following my dad’s first bout with cancer, our family struggled financially. Each Christmas, we had anonymous benefactors who generously left gifts on our doorstep.
While the gifts were deeply appreciated, it wasn’t until I had kids of my own that I began to fully appreciate the depth of charitable love that had been shown.
Few things create a stronger sense of goodwill toward men than serving others and working to bless their lives.
The next story is actually a movie that’s based upon an incident that took place during WWI. The prize-winning film “Joyeux Noel” tells the remarkable tale of a spontaneous Christmas truce that occurred between a handful of French, German, British and Scottish forces in 1914.
For five months, the various armies had been engaged in the horrors of trench warfare. The combatants were separated by a 700 mile long line of trenches that stretched between France and Belgium.
They were thoroughly traumatized and exhausted by the rigors of their fighting. Their misery included lack of sleep, mud, punishing cold, nasty food, lice and rats, and the escalating slaughter of men on both sides.
As the Christmas holiday approached, the front line soldiers settled in for special rations, a chance to rest, and the singing of Christmas carols.
There are differing accounts but all agree that the Germans began to sing “Silent Night” and the British responded with another carol. Soon the French joined in and the Scots began to accompany the carolers on their bagpipes.
In response to the Christmas carols, an unexpected sense of peace settled over the trenches. The soldiers, disobeying the orders of their superiors, put down their weapons and climbed out of the trenches to meet one another.
The truce allowed both sides to arrange a hasty burial of their dead comrades who were still strewn about no mans land. They held a brief Christmas Mass and shared gifts, pictures of loved ones and chocolate.
What began with Christmas carols ended with hugs and handshakes between men who just hours before had been doing their best to kill one another.
Fraternization during a time of war has traditionally been punished by summary execution since it’s considered treason. Yet, no commanding officer ordered the execution of those who had participated in the truce.
Perhaps these commanders did not wish to risk publicizing the remarkable event out of fear that it would spread to other units.
These fears were not unfounded as many of the participants in the Christmas truce came away from their experience as changed men who had no desire to kill again. Their love of mankind had miraculously overcome their willingness to blindly kill on orders from another.
In many cases, fresh troops had to be brought in to replace the men whose lives were forever changed by experiencing authentic “peace on earth” in the most unlikely of places.
I share these stories to reinforce that there are truly positive things about Christmas worth celebrating.
The ones of greatest value, however, cannot be purchased.
Bryan Hyde is a radio commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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