Happy Holidays to You! This month’s article invites us, in a very unique way, to take a look at what we may be holding on to that is weighing us down. We invite you to take a little time to reflect on what you can put down, if only for a little while, to lighten your heart.
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All Our Best,
Maude & Your Friends at Sacramento Hypnotherapy
Life In The Trenches
Machine-gun fire, smoke, and artillery shells filled the air – a ghastly cacophony hanging over the damp trenches. The Western Front of World War I, dubbed the “War to End All Wars” – before World War II proved otherwise – was running full tilt by December of 1914. Trenches stretched across Europe – the lamps of innocence extinguished – trenches lined with young men facing death, and inflicting it in turn. Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman’s declaration that “war is hell” was being reiterated starkly on the battlefields of the continent that had seen empires rise and fall – but never before in such apocalyptic grandeur.
The Christmas Truce of 1914
As the holiday season came, it must have felt anything but joyful. In an effort at goodwill, Pope Benedict XV put forth a plea to the warring powers issuing a request “that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang.” The plea fell on deaf ears. No official mandate of peace, no call for a ceasefire was issued. As far as the generals and presidents were concerned, the war would go on. But that’s not what happened.
No one is sure exactly where or how it began, but what is known is that over 100 years ago, on Christmas Eve, singing rose up from the trenches. Gunfire paused at multiple points along the trench lines across Europe. German, French, and British soldiers stopped shooting one another and crossed into no-man’s-land.
A letter from future writer Henry Williamson, 19 at the time reads:
“Dear Mother, I am writing from the trenches. It is 11 o’clock in the morning. Beside me is a coke fire, opposite me a ‘dug-out’ (wet) with straw in it. The ground is sloppy in the actual trench, but frozen elsewhere. In my mouth is a pipe presented by the Princess Mary. In the pipe is tobacco. Of course, you say. But wait. In the pipe is German tobacco. Haha, you say, from a prisoner or found in a captured trench. Oh dear, no! From a German soldier. Yes a live German soldier from his own trench. Yesterday the British & Germans met & shook hands in the ground between the trenches, & exchanged souvenirs, & shook hands. Yes, all day Xmas day, & as I write. Marvelous isn’t it?”
Bruce Bainster, another soldier wrote of the truce:
“I wouldn’t have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything…”
Bainster went on to relate a tale of exchanging uniform buttons with a German officer.
Meals were exchanged, gifts were given, carols, and songs were sung. In some locations along the war line soccer matches were played between men who had been shooting at one another only hours before.
The Next Day
In some places the truce lasted through the day after Christmas. In others the truce didn’t occur at all. The following years there were scattered repeat truces, though less frequent as the war became more bitter with the introduction of poison gas, and officers were given direct orders to keep their men firing. Fraternizing with the enemy was condemned.
The holiday season – rightly named as the Solstice time contains not only Christmas, but the Norse Yule, the Jewish Channukah, modern Kwanza, and other holidays – has always been recognized as a time for renewal and refocus. The extraordinary example of the Christmas Truce of 1914 has a key lesson to teach us. If fighting soldiers were able to stop killing each other for a few hours in the name of the holiday spirit and bury their dead, swap gifts, and share in song and food, how much more can we do in our own lives?
Lessons of The Truce
We’re all fighting battles whether they be physical ones involving military service, or disease – or mental and less tangible ones, stress, financial trouble, grudges, or even just clinging to an idea of the world not in terms of what it is, but what we want it to be.
This holiday season let go of the battles and burdens you’ve carried throughout the year. If you’re carrying something around you aren’t sure you’re ready to let go of, perhaps this season can be an opportunity to try going without it. Just for a few hours, maybe just a day like the soldiers of 1914 did. The battles will still be there for you to fight and carry if you want them. But you might find, as did some of the soldiers in the following years, that even under orders, you don’t want to keep fighting. The division that plagues politics, the arguments and frustrations with loved ones – what battles are you fighting that you don’t need to fight right now? What burdens are you carrying that no longer serve you? Who are you still holding a grudge against that you can let go of?
This season presents an opportunity to think and reflect – where can I declare a truce in my life this holiday season? Where can I exercise mercy – even if it’s unwarranted?