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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The best Christmas story

It's a well stated fact that the true meaning of Christmas is an adjunct, a PS, to the festival of excess that most of us enjoy with the vast majority giving no thought to why it started and what it's all about.

And that doesn't have to be the traditional story involving a manger, wise men and a virgin either. To me, the meaning of Christmas is the way it encourages us to bond with each other, strangers and friends alike, in a celebration of life.

One of the most heart warming stories is the true account of the Christmas football match armistice of 1914 when British and German soldiers celebrated Christmas together with a game of football in the icy wastes of No Man's Land.

For many years after the war the story was hushed up. When it did emerge, it was downplayed. But chronicling the different accounts of soldiers reveals there were several incidents which happened spontaneously all along the front, and French and Belgian soldiers were also involved.

Regimental Sergeant Major George Beck chronicled the remarkable events in his notebook. His account titled ‘Not a shot fired’ vividly details the events when soldiers of the Kaiser’s army came forward to hand out drinks and cigars to British Tommies and invited them over to a friendly game of soccer.

"Christmas Eve, 1914, and not a shot fired. The Germans ask to play football and hand out drink and cigars. They are eager to swop almost anything for our bully beef," the 34 year old veteran of the Boer War, who spent Christmas in a trench near the Belgian village of St Yves, near Ypres, writes in his diary.

The truce was apparently spearheaded by some German soldiers who planned it in advance and started it off by hurling a chocolate cake over enemy lines with a note asking if a one hour ceasefire might be possible.

To me it's a marvellous story and shows how humanity and hope can triumph. This was a truly dreadful war with millions of men killed, thanks to foolish and inept generals. Yet for a few hours, hostilities were forgotten and the festive spirit overcame the weary cold and sodden soldiers with the true meaning of Christmas.

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