Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? . . . Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matthew 25:34-40)
Nearly everyone acknowledges that there is a real spirit about Christmas. It is a time for good deeds and sharing of one’s earthly treasures. Our thoughts turn to the poor, the homeless, the outcast, the heartbroken, reminding us that he whose birth we celebrate was poor, homeless, outcast, and heartbroken.
At Christmastime, we open our wallets and our home and give our service more than at any other time of year. It is our annual reminder of Christ’s words, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).
The Christmas Truce
Christmas is a time of miracles, and one of those miracles occurred on Christmas Eve 1914. The French and British soldiers sat in their trenches on the Western Front near the border between France and Belgium, covered with mud, cold, and wishing they were at home with friends and family. A few hundred yards away, German troops were in their muddy trenches wishing the same thing. It was just months after the beginning of the Great War, later known as World War I and widely touted as “the war to end all wars.” Anticipating a short war, military leaders had promised the troops that they would be home by Christmas, but it was not to be.
Princess Mary had sent Christmas gifts to all 355,000 British troops engaged in battle and soldiers on both sides of the conflict received cards, cigars, treats, and warm clothing from friends and family back home. German troops were also allowed to drink alcoholic beverages, forbidden to British soldiers on duty.
At several points along the front, the sound of music came drifting across the “No Man’s Land” separating the enemy troops as the German soldiers began singing Christmas carols. Allied soldiers, looking to see what was happening, saw lights atop the German trenches. Thinking it was a trick, some prepared for another attack. As the German troops began singing Stille Nacht, Heilege Nacht, a British solder joined in with the English version of the song, Silent Night, Holy Night.
Some of the Germans began coming out of the trenches, one of them holding a small decorated tree and soon soldiers from both sides were mingling, shaking hands and wishing each other a merry Christmas.
Similar happenings were occurring all along the Western Front. In one place, Scottish and Saxon troops spent Christmas playing football, while other less formal football games broke out elsewhere. In another place, German and French troops worked side-by-side rounding up the bodies of the dead and burying them in solemn funeral services.
In another, a German soldier was seen cutting the hair of a British soldier. Men who had been enemies just hours before exchanged food and took photos of their comrades mingling with newfound friends. One British private met a German soldier who had been his uncle’s barber in London before the way. A British soldier purchased a helmet from a German, who asked to borrow it back for a parade the next day, after which he returned it.
As word of the ex officio armistice reached British commanders, the order went out to stop fraternizing with the enemy. But the truce lingered on into 26 December and beyond in some places. A British general issued an order to turn in the names of officers and soldiers who had made peace with the Germans. One officer ordered his men to shoot down unarmed Germans, but his men refused. Finally, one British officer shot a German, ending the truce in that part of the front. By January, the truce was over along most of the front. As the next Christmas approached in 1915, British and German generals issued orders prohibiting fraternization with the enemy, with the Germans ordering that men disobeying the order were to be shot.
Though the extemporaneous truce was mentioned in the British press and even detailed in a book, it went generally unnoticed by most people, including historians, until much later. The Flanders Fields Museum in the Belgian town of Ypres, just five miles from some of the trenches of World War I, continues to commemorate the event every day of the year. Whenever relatives of soldiers who fought in the region visit, they are asked to participate in the ceremony by placing flowers at a monument in the museum.
Imagine it: the spirit of Christmas actually stopped a war. When thoughts turned from guns and death to life and peace, family and friends, there was a brief respite from the world’s evils and from the real Scrooge, the one known as the “father of contention,” the one who opposed the mission of the Prince of peace.
A singular event from World War II reported by Lee W. Maloy of the U.S. Merchant Marine also illustrates how Christmas peace replaced the terror of war. It was Christmas Eve of 1944 and the ship was nearing the Strait of Gibraltar. German submarines were hunting American merchant ships and sinking them, so the crew was, as usual, watchful.
The periscope of a U-boat appeared off the port side of the ship less than a hundred yards away, followed by the boat itself rising to the surface. The crew awaited their doom with dread, but no torpedoes were seen in the water and no Germans manned their deck gun. Instead, a signal light from the conning tower flashed a brief message in English, “Merry Christmas,” and the boat slipped beneath the waves. The spirit of Christmas had overcome the hatred and evil of war.
Coping with the Season
So important has Christmas become in our Western society that people with no familial support sometimes get depressed or even suicidal as the days grow shorter and the nights longer. More murders, divorce filings, family disputes, domestic violence, suicides, drunkenness, “charity” scams, and thefts of various kinds occur during this season than during the rest of the year.
For those who share the holiday with family, however, Christmas past becomes a fond memory and Christmas present becomes a time to help others and to bask in the warmth of a good heart and the hope of happy Christmases future.
Still, there are problems that impact all of us, even those who have happy families. The over-commercialization of Christmas leads to family debt for some, while the unwise use of Christmas lighting causes fires and the loss of home and possessions.
For most of us, it is impractical or impossible to place ourselves in a position comparable to that in which Jesus entered the world. What, then, can we do to bring the spirit of Christmas into our lives and still acknowledge the teachings of the Bible that have taken a back seat to commercialism? I believe that the answer lies in an examination of those elements of modern Christmas celebrations that were also present at the time of Jesus’ birth.
For example, as we wade through the multitude of shoppers filling the stores and streets, we are reminded that Bethlehem, too, was crowded. There so many visitors in town that no room could be found in the inn for Mary and Joseph. The angelic choir that sang praises to God in the presence of the Judaean shepherds is commemorated in the Christmas carols emanating from every radio station and from every corner of our towns and cities. As we exchange gifts, we are reminded not only of the visit of the wise men, but also of God’s gift to us-his only begotten Son.
It is said that “Christmas comes but once a year,” but God expects us to honor his Son every day. Some of our favorite Christmas authors said it best:
“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” – Ebenezer Scrooge, in Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
“Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind.” – Mary Ellen Chase
“The only real blind person at Christmas-time is he who has not Christmas in his heart.” – Helen Keller
“Peace on earth will come to stay, When we live Christmas every day.” – Helen Steiner Rice
 Because of the high water level in the region, the trenches of Allied soldiers always had water at the bottom. Lengthy exposure to the muddy water caused trench foot. The Germans generally held the high ground and had fewer problems with water.
 In the northern hemisphere, the shortest day of the year (which also marks the longest night) is 22 December, the winter solstice. After the summer solstice on 21 June, the days get progressively shorter and the nights longer, while the opposite occurs after 22 December. Researchers have demonstrated that absence of exposure to sunlight leads to depression, so regions with lots of cloudy winter weather can be difficult for some. Indeed, research has shown that 38% of all breakups by singles occur during the winter months, while only 15% break up in the spring and 23% each in the summer and fall. In my personal experience, I cannot forget the time when I went through 80 gloomy days of winter with no sunshine whatsoever.