Read a war story this Christmas, and get some peace

CULTURE | Evan Maines | 9 mins

Being a 23-year-old guy, I am no longer ignorant to the pain that Christmas can bring people. But as cynical as I am, I still long for an amazing Christmas. I also get caught up in reflection. I spend a lot of time in retrospect looking back at my year hoping to find proof that I have become a better man and a better fighter.

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I think we are a generation of fighters, longing to win over something so rarely found: peace. We want space to breathe and know that things are going to be OK. And yet, at holiday get-togethers, I’m the one sitting on my phone waiting to leave.

So, today—whilst dwelling in my 20-something’s angst, I turned to history to see if there was something I could learn.

Christmas Eve, 1914 During the heights of the first World War, English and German soldiers were locked into a stalemate on the western front of Belgium. After many long and exhausting days of endless bloodshed and fighting, men were exhausted. The war was supposed to be over by now, and yet both sides found themselves attempting to press on against a mutual enemy—the brutal elements and harsh winter conditions.

Suddenly from across “No Man’s Land,” British soldiers could hear the German troops singing the original Austrian version of “Silent Night.” The British troops began poking their heads up over the trenches to see the sight of tiny candlelit Christmas trees near the German side.

At first, they panicked believing it was a trick or a warning sign of attack. The Germans’ singing began to grow louder. When several minutes passed with no gunfire ringing out, sectors of the British army were ordered to begin singing “Silent Night” but in English. The Germans sang louder. A friendly competition began to break out, and soon—harmony.

Both sides were singing in unison. Both sides even began shouting Christmas greetings back and forth to each other. Opposing Generals met to make arrangements and talks of a ceasefire were steadily growing. It was one of the first nights both sides were able to sleep soundly.

Christmas morning, 1914. According to journals and documentation, the sun broke after the snow had dusted the land the night before. It was the first time in a long time that the sun had illuminated the battlefield. To the British troops’ surprise, there were German soldiers walking around outside of their trenches in No Man’s Land—completely unarmed.

Surely it was suicide to do so, but it was a true act of trust. Soon, many British soldiers began to do the same. Once they emerged, the remnants of previous battles were undeniable. Hundreds of bodies from both sides lay frozen on the ground. Despite this, British troops and German troops began fraternizing with each other on the battlefield. Exchanging kind words of hope, as well as gifts such as scarfs, gloves, hats, uniform buttons, and more.

One of the truly defining moments of this historical event were men (both British and German) sitting together enjoying a smoke or a drink talking to each other, playing soccer, and finding that they were not so different after at all. They both wanted to fight for the same thing—freedom and peace.

However, the wide-spanning ceasefire would not last.

On that Christmas day, with midnight approaching and rumor of this ceasefire beginning to make its way to commanders on both sides, the peace would not survive through the night. High ranking officers on both sides began sending back commands to generals on the western front to make their men return to their sides and keep fighting.

With some civility, a few British generals met in the middle of No Man’s Land with German generals to shake hands, and fire their revolvers in the air to signal an end to the ceasefire.

Disheartened British and German soldiers shook hands, and said final Christmas greetings before returning back to the trench.

By midnight, the fight was back on and all sides were fully re-engaged in combat. Some of those men who were once exchanging gifts were now the target at the end of each others’ rifles.

Nearly four years later, on November 11th, 1918, German forces surrendered, and all fighting ended until negotiations of peace were settled. On June 11th, 1919, Germany and the Allied Nations signed the Treaty of Versailles officially ending the war.

By the end of World War I — 40 Million people (military and civilians) lay dead.

104 Years Later, I sit in a coffee shop and wipe away tears. I sit in the humanity of this story and its relevance in our culture today. I cannot deny the fact that war (both seen and unseen) has significantly shaped our world. I also cannot deny the stirring I feel inside of me that still longs for that peace much like those soldiers on that fateful Christmas day in 1914.

Christmas is upon us and speaking for myself, I am not looking forward to all of it. Here are some of the good things:

  • I get some time off work. That’s a good thing.
  • I get to play more of the critically-acclaimed video game “Red Dead Redemption 2” with some good friends.
  • I get to be artsy and creative through playing music with some other friends.
  • I am really looking forward to the time I get to spend with my immediate family.

There’s also some I am not looking forward to:

  • Awkwardly sitting in silence while not knowing how to talk to my extended family.
  • Inevitable mourning as my family has lost several family members recently: one to leukemia, two to dementia.
  • Battling ongoing depression and anxiety now amplified through seasonal depression.
  • Wondering if I am actually making a difference or not.
  • And of course, faking that I enjoy eating overly complicated Christmas meals and side dishes. Just make mashed potatoes! You don’t have to put fancy vegetables in them!

To say I am full of Christmas cheer is a bit of an over exaggeration. The easiest thing I could do is breeze through the holidays and get back to life. Yet I still long for a ceasefire of peace before I return to the battlefield.

Your battle will still be there. In our lives, we all feel as though we are fighting a battle in some way. We may not be fighting against Germans per se (and I hope you aren’t fighting Germans—they are pretty chill). But we are fighting—loneliness, emptiness, rejection, temptation, addiction, depression, anxiety, divorce, etc.

These are battles we should absolutely want to fight to take new ground in, but it’s so easy to tire out. Much like the German and British troops that Christmas Eve 1914, we want rest.

Come December 26th, whatever you are fighting for or against will still be there. My hope is that you will not tire out this new year and feel as though you are not enough to win your battles.

If you want to make headway in those battles, you need to find peace and rest. Netflix just paid $100 Million to keep the NBC Sitcom “Friends” on their streaming platform. Some of you may be looking forward to bingeing that during the holidays. It may feel like “rest,” and although it may seem like it is giving you a sense of “peace,” I believe there is more we can do to make peace as well. Real rest can be experienced when we make it in our lives, as opposed to trying to rest and keep peace.

This Christmas season, here are a few ways to make it: cease fire and show kindness.

  • Call that friend or family member you stopped speaking to however long ago.
  • Forgive that one person who did you wrong.
  • Forgive yourself.
  • Spend time with those in your life who are widowed, sick, or ailing.
  • Check in on that person who may be spending the holidays alone.
  • Take a personal day from work so you can spend more time with your children.

Being there is one of the greatest ways you can make peace this approaching season. Release everything, so you can rest fully.

Think of this as “new ammunition”—a new way to fight your battles. Because as much as the ceasefire from 1914 moves me, it’s heartbreaking that they had to pick up the same weapons and keep fighting the same way for four more years losing more and more lives every day. Anytime I have blown through a Holiday season, I find myself in that same exhaustion as if it were waiting for me to return. But ultimately the only way to what we’re after is through Jesus. Maybe we crave peace more this time of year because that’s exactly what He came to bring.

I’ve found the best thing I can do is model my life after the ways that Jesus lived his. Jesus fought so that people would know their true identity as a son or daughter of God, but his weapons were different. Jesus healed people, cast out demons, forgave prostitutes, spent time with the marginalized, and challenged people to live differently. He made peace on Earth, and he did it from a place of rest first.

Godspeed friends. I hope this is one your best holiday seasons yet.

Written by Evan Maines on Dec 31, 2018
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Discussion Questions

  1. What are your battles? Naming them is powerful. List or share with a friend as many as come to mind without dismissing any that seem “too small” or “unimportant.” They’re real. They matter.

  2. How are you currently fighting whatever came to mind, and how’s your energy level in it?

  3. What would a ceasefire look like for you? Try to think of at least three ways you could more deeply rest and refuel in a new way. Tell a friend to help hold you to it.

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