As we embark on the centennial of that devastating set of events, and as we attempt to remember and memorialize the over 37 million casualties of war, one cannot help but try and look for something, anything, positive that could be taken from such tragic events. What can we learn and how can we not repeat the mistakes of the past?
A world at war. Hope was hard. Light was lost. The world was dark. Out of that darkness came an isolated but beautiful moment where peace, faith, hope, and humanity overcame the bonds of war, and, even if for a night and a day, peace became possible.
One act of faith changed everything
December 24, 1914—Christmas Eve—began like so many days that preceded it, with a feeling of doom and gloom all along the Western Front in Belgium and France. Weeks of cold, wet weather left the armies of both the Allies and the Central Powers shivering and seeking refuge in their trenches amidst the wet-then-frozen ground.
Trench warfare was a brutal and savage way to wage war, with constant fear from attacks of artillery, flame-throwers, insidious chemical gas, hand grenades, and hand-to-hand combat with bayonets all along the front line of both sides.
Nothing was left in its wake, as fertile and beautiful farms, fields, and forests were turned to shadowy and barren wastelands. All that remained was a spidery web of catacomb trenches carved into the earth and a no man’s land of barbed wire and bombed out terrain separating the competing armies’ trenches.
Yet in the midst of that bleak scene the human spirit shone through
On Christmas Eve 1914 across Flanders Field and the Western Front, the guns fell silent and, as darkness descended, British soldiers heard something foreign in the bitter wind-swept night—the sounds of Christmas carols rising from the German lines.
Stille Nacht (Silent Night), a song that had yet to become well known in England or America, broke through the eerie silence of the war-torn night. For a moment all was truly calm, all was bright. The British ranks responded, first by applause and cheering, and then by singing Christmas carols themselves.
Being curious, some Allied soldiers raised their heads above the trenches. In the distance they could see the glow of candles on small Christmas trees, as it was the German tradition to light candles on the evergreen trees. German heads were also now seen beginning to peer above the trenches. No shots were fired. Some soldiers raised their heads higher. Shoulders, trunks, and entire bodies soon stood above the trenches.
Soldiers on both sides began to inch closer and eventually met at the heart of No Man’s Land, poignantly surrounded by their fallen comrades, frozen rigid by, and clothed in, frost. They shook hands, exchanged gifts and drinks, swapped cap badges and buttons,and showed one another photographs of their families and loved ones.
Faith found them on common ground
Today the debris of war, the hundreds of thousands of corpses and wounded, the mud and barbed wire have all been removed.
Apart from a small wooden cross and an accompanying information panel, the memory is all but erased. But the lessons we can learn burn as brightly as the faith of those who experienced it.
One hundred years later we may feel a bit of a parallel, as if our world is at war, without hope, lost, and dark. We may be asking, where can we turn for relief? Is peace ever possible?
Where there is faith:
Peace is possible#PeaceIsPossible
Download “Silent Night.”