79. The Story of the Christmas Truce

As we prepare to celebrate the holidays, Brittany and Connor spread some cheer with an uplifting Christmas story. During WWI, soldiers on opposing sides of the war practiced civil disobedience by laying down their weapons and refusing to fight on Christmas Day. Instead, they sang carols and exchanged gifts with each other, showing the world that there are no differences too big to overcome.

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Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Brittany: Hi Connor.

Connor: Hey, Brittany.

Brittany: So it’s Christmas time, or at least it will be when this episode airs, but I thought it would be fun today to incorporate some nice uplifting Christmas stories into our show. I feel like in 2020 we can’t get enough joy in our lives or any joy in our lives. So I thought today it could be fun to talk about a story that I always love. It always gives me chills. It always brings tears to my eyes. And it is what’s known to become to be known as the Christmas Truths. And I know Connor, you and I are both big fans of peace. Or maybe a better way to say this is we are both very anti-war. I don’t think I’m speaking for you. I think that’s a fair assessment, right? Oh yeah. Good. All right, good. Because war is literally the worst, right? They’re costly, they’re brutal, and they result in so much human life or loss of human life that it’s just, it’s one of the most tragic things I think humans have ever done. And World War I in particular, was one of the most brutal wars we ever fought just because of how it was fought. And we’ll go into World War I in more detail and why it happened in a later episode. Cause there’s so much to unpack there. But Connor, what can you tell us about World War I? Like what made this war so horrifying for so many people?

Connor: Oh, wow. So this was called, you know, the Great War and the World War and like this was like the first time that all these countries were fighting. And it was just a different level between, you know, one country fighting another or a civil war. I don’t know why they’re called civil wars, they’re not very civil you know, like domestic war, like inside one country,

Brittany: That’s a better way to say it. Domestic war.

Connor: Yeah. And so, but this was like this, a multi-country war on a huge scale. And you know, this is like a century ago, right? So they didn’t have the medical advances or the same standards of hygiene, that we do today. You know, so if you got wounded from a bayonet or a bullet or whatever, right? You didn’t stand a very good chance at survival, thinking about not having the right, you know, medicines and tools for surgery and antibiotics and things like that. And so that made the problem really bad as well. There were also, this was like the, you know, military tools were kind of leveling up, right? Like getting worse. There were new like tools for destruction and, and so poisonous gases, chemical warfare was starting to be used

Brittany: Airplanes. Wasn’t this the first war with airplanes? So I could be wrong about that. I don’t know if that’s Accurate.

Connor: I, don’t remember. I don’t remember that. maybe on our World War I episode, we’ll done that.

Brittany: Yes. We’ll go into that

Connor: Oh, and so they would have these like machines to spray poisonous gas to people that would get in your lungs and your eyes would kill people. And, I mean, trench warfare was a massive thing. This was all being done, kind of on the western front. You had these, countries, these areas where the fighting was, and they would dig these long trenches in the ground that were parallel to one another, and people would,

Brittany: Did trench just to back up a trench is just like a hole, right? It’s just kinda like a,

Connor: Hole. Yeah. A long hole, like a big line enough where you could stand in them and you know, your head would kind of be at ground level so that bullets would kind of whizz past you and so forth. And, and, but, you know, you’d have to go to the bathroom in there. It was not sanitary cuz you’d just have human waste and disease would spread. And then, you know, when you’d have to get out of that trench to go like try and advance to the next trench and advance on the enemy, you’re exposed, right? The other guys can just hold their gun right outside the trench, like along the surface of the ground and shoot at you. And, so it just was, it was horrible. It was like, the only thing I could think of worse was like that the founding fathers fighting the Revolutionary War. Like you’ve seen movie recreations or like Civil war, they did it too, where literally they just all stand in a line and shoot at one another.

Brittany: I’ve never understood that.

Connor: Never, I’ve never understood that. Like,

Brittany: The poor drummer boys, there’s always drummer boys too. And I’m thinking like, that’s like you got the short end of the stick who volunteers to be the drummer kinda fighting.

Connor: It’s not a bulletproof drum. No you know, hide behind a tree for heaven’s sake. You know, don’t just stand there in line. I’ve never understood that. And so, you know, here now you have trench warfare and so it’s, you know, not as bad. You at least have kind of defenses and, so forth. But you know, like, I don’t know. The more we get into this, doesn’t sound like a very uplifting story quite yet.

Brittany: I promise it’s coming, it will get uplifting. But you’re right, trench warfare was not excited or not like a great way to spend your day. And also remember this is like freezing temperatures too, right? Imagine being outside bad hygiene, like you said. I mean this, to me seems like the worst thing ever. But the trenches were actually not as bad as what was outside the trenches. And they called that no man’s land. And that is as scary as it sounds. And that is just because with you are fair game. If you jump outta that trench and you’re in the middle of both trenches, your odds of survival are very, very low. There are even stories of men lighting matches in the trenches and even the light, like the other side could see the light. They would just start shooting. So imagine if they saw you outside of the trench. Very, very scary. And obviously war does not stop for the holidays. at least not usually. But in 1914, here’s the uplifting part happened, something quite extraordinary happened that really helped capture the true spirit of humanity and just shows us that there really no difference that is too great for us to overcome at least, not for a few hours.

Connor: I, remember, maybe the part of the beginning of the story, the Catholic pope at the time, Pope Benedict, I think was his name. And so this is in early December, 1914,

Brittany: The beginning of the war pretty early on.

Connor: Yeah. And so he, he came out and he suggested like a temporary end to the fighting, like a cease fire as the holidays approached. But I don’t think the countries went for that,

Brittany: Right? No, in fact. But the soldiers had other plans. And this is one of my favorite parts of the story. Again, I know we talk about civil disobedience so much, but it’s so important, and this is kind of an example of that. So on Christmas Eve, British soldiers heard singing coming from the German trenches, and they recognized the tune a silent night, even though they didn’t know the words because it was being sung in German. And they were a little confused at first because I mean, this, again, this is war. And I would imagine that much like quarantine, you kind of lose track of days, in war. I don’t know, I’ve never fought in one. I hope I never have to. But a few soldiers decided to kind of stick their heads outside and see what was going on. I mean, there was definitely that feeling of like, okay, are we going to get shot? But something kind of felt different, you know, it just, it felt like it was okay.

Connor: I remember that the German soldiers were also like waving their hands and, almost like starting their own ceasefire, right? And, yeah, this is a fun story cuz like the two sides, the fighting sides began singing together, but in their native languages. I love that, right? And, eventually, there was like a brass band that joined in this, like someone had some instruments and stuff, and the British, you know, could hear like this brass band starting to play like that just sounds amazing, like

Brittany: The drummer, right? They had a brass band. Like that’s an absorber. And the most beautiful part about the story, in my opinion, is when the sun came up on Christmas Day. So that was Christmas Eve night when all this started. the soldiers on both sides came out of the trenches completely. No man’s land became almost like a party. and I mean, any other day this would’ve meant they’d be shot at, right? But they were greeting each other with Merry Christmas. They were actually exchanging gifts of tobacco and plum pudding, which is a famous British Christmas dessert. And there were even rumors that some soldiers got out and even played soccer with each other and were lighting Christmas trees. So, I mean, this is the most unexpected thing.

Connor: I found this quote from a German lieutenant, um, at the time, I’m gonna butcher his name, Kurt Zehmisch or something like that. And I gotta brush up on my German. And he said, how marvelously wonderful yet how strange it was. I love that. Which, I think is kind of a good way to describe what was happening. Like this was still war time. And you know, when Christmas ended, the fighting started again. These people who had just, you know, hours and days earlier been exchanging gifts and playing with one another, singing together about Jesus Christ. Like, you know, how amazing, at least that for a couple of days, you know, this Christmas like spirit and season United, these people who were like sworn enemies. I just think it’s an amazing story.

Brittany: It is. And I think there’s some things we can take out of that we can apply today. Now obviously a we are not in the middle of a hot war. Some might call it a cold war as far as just how contentious things are and how angry everybody seems to be in our country right now. But this story I think is a really good reminder because we don’t, we don’t have to be that way, right? And now obviously the fighting only stopped for a couple hours, so it’s not the best example of like long, standing world piece, but you know, Christmas is a time when we kind of feel like we can put our differences aside that there are no differences, too big to overcome. So it’d be kind of amazing if we could do things like this, you know, all the time

Connor: And that to me is, is the lesson here, how sad it was that it was so temporary. Yeah. Right? Like, you know, it, it’s one like for those who are church goers, right? Like, you go at church on Sunday and let’s love one another and let’s be nice and then like the rest of the week or we like,

Brittany: Look terrible

Connor: Yeah. Like how are we acting on social media, right? And are we voting, you know, for policies and laws that like, if I vote to raise my neighbor’s taxes, I don’t think I’m loving them. you know, like, through the government, people often like, you know, oh, you shouldn’t be able to use your property for that. I’m gonna vote to stop you from doing short term rentals with your home. Or what, like, we’re not loving other people when we vote to like control them and restrict them? And so are we like consistent with our beliefs and, trying to make sure that the things we stand for and so forth that we’re actually living that way. To me, that’s like a great lesson from the story about, you know, these guys should have just like imagine what would’ve happened if they just laid down their their weapons and said, we refuse to fight. What I love about this story is, when the Pope called for this kind of thing to happen and the countries said no, they said

Brittany: No, the government said no

Connor: Right? It, wasn’t the soldiers, it wasn’t the guys in the trenches actually doing the shooting. It was like the leadership, the people back in some safe, you know, room thinking about strategy and whatever, right? And they’re like, no, we’re not gonna do that. And, so the silly thing here is even in, that war world war I, there weren’t enemies in the sense that those people in the trenches weren’t enemies. They were brothers and sisters and neighbors and friends and you know, children of God if you’re religious or whatever, right? These were people who had things in common. They shared a bond, they got along

Brittany: They Hear the same songs. Like that’s what I love about. Cause Christmas is very, you know, universal. So it’s like they even knew the same songs. it’s crazy.

Connor: Yeah. And, so it was, it wasn’t them that who were enemies, it was, you know, their governments. I remember a few years ago when a lot of people were wanting to go to war with Iran, and I remember

Brittany: With time, it happens like every few months I feel

Connor: Exactly yeah. This was the 43rd text and I watched this YouTube video of, what’s his name, Rick Steves I think is his name, the traveling guy. And, he does a bunch of travel guides and things like that. And he, got access to go to Iran and he was accompanied by like government officials wanting to make sure he wasn’t doing anything crazy as an American, but he went around filming their museums and their schools and inside people’s homes and interviewing people. And it was amazing because all we heard in the media was, Iran is evil. They’re horrible, we need to attack them. They’re all terrorists, blah, blah, blah. And then what you see in this video is literally Iranian people talking to this American on camera saying, saying, you know, and I’m not embellishing here. Like many of them would say, we know our governments are at odds. We know that our governments are fighting, but we love America. We love Americans, we love you. And I was like, oh my gosh. Like that,

Brittany: That’s a powerful message.

Connor: You never hear that message. I remember there was a Facebook, project that someone created. It was, Iranian? I wrote about it.

Brittany: One of my, I remember this was a couple, this was a handful of years ago, right?

Connor: Yes.

Brittany: Yeah I remember this

Connor: It was like Iran loves Israel. Yeah. A Facebook page and did some videos and stuff. And he would go around saying, I love you. You know, you’re another person. I love you. We’re friends. And, it’s so interesting cuz governments confide in people who, it’s almost like playing chess, right? It’s like the government will play chess with people’s lives. Okay? You’re gonna go kill those people. And, and we’re gonna use, we’ve, talked before about like propaganda and psychological warfare, which is trying to manipulate people’s minds and get them to believe different things. And so anytime there’s a war, there’s always a kind of psychological war. First you have to convince all the soldiers that those are bad people. Yeah. So now you can go kill them, but here they are in the trenches singing the same song during Christmas time and they realized that all that psychological, you know, stuff maybe isn’t true. These are just people like me. And yes, our governments have told us to come do this. Like, that’s just such a powerful message to me that, you know, even though governments are at odds with one another and people in control are trying to like, send soldiers to go kill other people, the very soldiers themselves can at least for a few hours or days say, you know what? We’re not buying into that. now I think it’s an effort to figure out how we can prolong those types of things and make that happen more often.

Brittany: It makes me wonder how hard it would’ve been to get back to the fighting, right? The next day or maybe the day after. I don’t remember exactly when the day was, but these people have become your friends, you know, and you have to go back to fighting. It makes me wonder if they didn’t try as hard, you know, if there was, like an unspoken, like true, you know, just kind of like agreement of we’re just gonna kind of lay back a little bit. It, that probably didn’t happen. I’m probably imagining it more hap you know, happier than it did happen. It was war. But I mean, I can’t imagine being in that state. I don’t remember if it was Richard Mayberry or Rom Paul because I was reading both of them at the same time a lot. But one of them had some great quote that I’m gonna butcher along the lines of, you know, war is not people going to war against people. And you basically brought this point up, right? It’s governments going to war against other governments, but the people get pulled into it. We, are collateral damage. And so that’s, it’s a good reminder of not only how great we can be as people to put aside our differences, but that war is a racket, right? Like it’s, it’s a really good reminder that war is terrible.

Connor: And maybe even now in 2020, there’s a lot of people who are upset over mask mandates and lockdowns and Karens out there, you know, and all these things. There’s a lot of people who are angry right now and, emotions are on edge, and there’s a lot of people online who are really frustrated. And so maybe the lesson for us is what, you know, what lessons can we take from the Christmas season? The spirit, the message, the Christmas story from World War I like, how can we, you know, create more peace in our homes, in our communities like that? How can we, yeah, how can, we just can’t, can’t we all just get along?

Brittany: Don’t Google that quote

Connor: You guys as a family to talk about what, does this mean? How do we keep that spirit going, you know, longer than just, the Christmas season? I think that’d be a fun discussion. Merry Christmas to you all. We’re so grateful that you all listened to the podcast. We love having these conversations. We hope you guys have a great holiday season and, Merry Christmas, Brittany. Yeah,

Brittany: Merry Christmas to you too. You and your family.

Connor: All Right, we’ll talk to you later.

Brittany: Talk to you later.

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