Tonight is Christmas Eve, and I doubt people are going to be reading a lot of history blogs today. But for what it’s worth I decided to offer this photograph, which was taken on December 25, 1914 on the Western Front. It shows British and German soldiers who have come out of their trenches–very much not sanctioned by their commanders–and come together for a little holiday cheer. The “Christmas Truce” of World War I is justifiably famous, and was heavily memorialized last year which was its 100th anniversary. Many people latch on to this interesting detail about the war because it’s one of the few glimmers of humanity and decency in the midst of a story that’s so full of dreadful and disheartening things.
These guys are pretty young, barely more than kids. I wonder what happened to the fellow with the pickelhaube (spiked helmet of traditional German design) and the cigarette. Did he survive the war? Did he or these other guys eventually find some kind of reconciliation or personal redemption after the conflict, history’s worst up until that point, was over? If a Christmas peace can break out in the middle of a disaster as violent and awful as the First World War, perhaps there’s hope for us, but it has to start with us, as individuals.
There are many things to be pessimistic about in this holiday season, but I hope that each of us, regardless of our religion, politics or backgrounds, recognizes that the road to a better, more peaceful and more positive world lies within our own hearts, our own attitudes and actions, and the concern we must have for our fellow humans. This is my thought for Christmas Eve. As John F. Kennedy said, nearly 50 years after this photo was taken, “Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children’s futures, and we are all mortal.”