*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 24th of December 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
My son recently asked me why we call the day before a holiday the “eve.” Maybe you know this- but the answer comes from the first chapter in Genesis. We read, “God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.”
So why do certain holidays begin at sundown the night before? Because a day, according to a reading of this verse, is the night and then the morning. Halloween- all Hallow’s Eve- is the first part of All Saints Day, and Christmas Eve is just the first part of Christmas… except for language and custom change, and so Christmas is technically 12:00 Am to 11:59 on December 25th (or the snowy day of the dog as I like to call it)
Nonetheless, it is why we can speak of the famous “Christmas Truce” of 1914, beginning on Christmas Eve. Let’s hear from the Wall Street Journal- no fan of sentimentality in 1914 amid the Great War
“What appears from the winter fog and misery is a Christmas story, a fine Christmas story that is, in truth, the most faded and tattered of adjectives: inspiring.”
The inspiring story would be told in the film “Joyeux Noël” in 2005. The movie is a fictional recreation of several stories of impromptu Christmas truces amongst the combatants in trenches across Western Europe during that first Christmas of World War 1.
Hear this from a letter sent home by British soldier Frederick Heath- the story begins with the Germans calling out from their trench
‘English soldier, a merry Christmas, come out, English soldier; come out here to us.’ For some little time, we were cautious and did not even answer. Officers, fearing treachery, ordered the men to be silent. But up and down our line, one heard the men answering that Christmas greeting from the enemy. How could we resist wishing each other a Merry Christmas, even though we might be at each other’s throats immediately afterward? So we kept up a running conversation with the Germans while our hands were ready on our rifles: blood and peace, enmity and fraternity—war’s most amazing paradox. The night wore on to dawn—a night made easier by songs from the German trenches, the pipings of piccolos and from our broad lines laughter and Christmas carols. Not a shot was fired.”
Variations on this story have Germans and Scots serenading each other with Christmas Carols, soccer matches in the now-frozen “no man’s lands” between trenches, and the sharing of rations and fires. Others took the respite from war to rebuild their trenches and bury their dead.
Perhaps one of the more telling and universal aspects to this story is the consternation of the commanding officers, punishments for some who fraternized with their enemies, and that we don’t have stories of this repeating in the following years of the war. On some level, it seems a tacit agreement that war is incongruent with the coming of the Prince of Peace.
Nevertheless, something remarkable happened across a war-torn continent on the night of the first Christmas during that first World War- small and fabled, ultimately rejected as inappropriate for war. And maybe that’s the takeaway from this story and those like it- Christmas and fight, try as they might, can’t mix.
The Last Words for today are from the Christmas Hymn “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.”
1 It came upon the midnight clear,
that glorious song of old,
from angels bending near the earth
to touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, good will to men,
from heaven's all-gracious King."
The world in solemn stillness lay,
to hear the angels sing.
2 Still through the cloven skies they come
with peaceful wings unfurled,
and still their heavenly music floats
o'er all the weary world;
above its sad and lowly plains,
they bend on hovering wing,
and ever o'er its Babel sounds
the blessed angels sing.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 24th of December 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite Eve’s include Christmas, the Brady Bunch’s Eve Plumb (she played Jan), and Eve the 1979 album by the Alan Parsons Project. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who would like to recommend the Christmas Song “Alan Parsons in a Winter Wonderland” by Grandaddy. I’m Dan van Voorhis
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.