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This piece, set during World War I, highlights the beauty of unlikely friendships and fellowship. It is a British soldier’s letter to his sister on how all enmity was forgotten as British and German soldiers celebrated Christmas together.
The letter was written on 25th December, 1914. The soldier, Tom narrates the story of his Christmas Eve that he celebrated while on war in France, in a letter to his sister. Had he not been there and seen it happen, he would never believe. The German and English soldiers celebrated the spirit of Christmas together, and put aside their rivalry.
The first battle has caused so much destruction of life, that both parties had to wait for more soldiers to arrive. However, this waiting was not easy as the soldier was worried about surprise explosions during the night and getting shot during the day. The soldiers lived in trenches and when it rained, their shelters were flooded. Tom shared the problems that arose because of the rains.
The soldier shared that their first trench was only fifty yards, he wondered how the Germans handled the flood situation. Between them laid No Man’s Land, bordered on both sides by barbed wire – yet they were close enough and sometimes Tom heard their voices. Tom said that although he hated the Germans when they killed his friends, other times they joked about the Germans and felt that they all shared something in common.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, the soldiers had their first snowfall. Everything turned white with frost and prepared the perfect Christmas weather. That day there was little firing from both sides and when it was nighttime, the shooting stopped entirely. This was the first time in months that there was complete silence on both sides.
The British soldiers hoped for a peaceful holiday but did not count on it as they had been told to be prepared for a surprise attack. Tom was asleep in his dugout when his friend John woke him up and asked him to see what the Germans were doing. Tom grabbed his rifle and went out but was surprised to see that the Germans were only putting Christmas lights along the German line.
The Germans decorated Christmas trees in front of their trenches and sang the carol ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’ in German. After the Germans completed the song the British soldiers clapped for them and they too sang their own version in English. When this one ended, the Germans started singing another one.
Both the teams started singing together until the Germans invited the English to the side and said that if the English don’t shoot the Germans would also not shoot. the English were very surprised to hear this and one of them jokingly invited the Germans. To their astonishment, two German soldiers actually came over to the English side.
The officers of both groups talked and it was mutually decided to stop shooting until next midnight. Soon there were over 100 soldiers and officers of both sides shaking hands with each other in No Man’s Land. A bonfire was built and all of them sat around it and chatted. Tom wondered why fewer Britishers knew German and more Germans knew English, so he asked one of them and learned that many Germans had previously worked in England.
Food, badges and buttons were exchanged between the English and German soldiers. Tom traded his jack knife for a leather equipment belt. They ended their singing session with the song ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and discussed football. Then they left with promises to meet again tomorrow.
Just as Tom was returning to the trenches an older German soldier clutched his arm and asked him why they could not just have peace and go back home. This put Tom in thought. In the letter Tom asked his sister if there has ever been such a Christmas Eve in all history where two enemies befriended each other for Christmas’ sake. He said that it did not change anything for the soldiers. The soldiers may be decent people but they only follow orders.
Tom concluded the letter wondering what would happen if the spirit shown there were caught by the nations of the world. Disputes may arise but what if their leaders were to offer good wishes in place of warnings; songs in place of insults; gifts in place of reprisals? Would not all wars end at once? All nations say they want peace. Yet on this Christmas morning, he wondered if they wanted it quite enough.
The letter is a very sweet reminder to maintain peace and harmony. It gives an insight into a soldier’s emotions and sacrifices. It makes one wonder why we need violence and do we really need it? It reminds the readers that we can always put aside our differences and come together to celebrate the festivals. If we can put aside our differences for a while, why can we not end them all together with peace? The letter highlights the importance of good friendly behaviour even with one’s rival.