OPINION COLUMNS

Christmas spirit in no-man’s-land

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, December 13, 2014
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The news stories circling us every waking moment are starting to remind me of those flying monkeys in “The Wizard of Oz” – very unsettling.

Police shootings, riots in response. Grand juries, lawsuits and denials, SWAT gear and tear gas.

Hands up. I can’t breathe.

Bob Buckel

Bob Buckel

Islamic State beheadings and the revelation that our CIA likely tortured captives. Constant political battling and bad-mouthing.

Ebola, fires, wrecks, crime – and an economy that still seems a bit queasy even though it keeps insisting, “But I’m getting better!”

Such things can dampen the Christmas spirit, if we let them.

Of course, if we look a little closer to home we’ll find many, many more reasons for hope than for despair.

Just ponder Live Thankfully, WARM, the Toy Run, angel trees, Santa Cops and other over-the-top efforts to make sure everyone shares the season’s blessings.

Take in a play or program at a school, church or community theater, and let the music and lights and celebrations work on your disposition. If that doesn’t do it, go to Wal-Mart and drop some cash in the kettle.

After all that, if you still think things are bleak, here in 2014, ponder for a moment … 1914.

World War I was raging in Europe. The German advance had been checked before it could reach Paris, and by November the opposing armies were locked in trench warfare, aiming shells and bullets at each other from lines of muddy ditches that stretched from the English Channel to the border of Switzerland.

Barbed wire defined a “no-man’s-land” between those earthen fortifications. In some areas, it was no more than 30 yards wide.

As Christmas approached, mild weather and an influx of Christmas packages – food and presents from home – lifted the spirits of men on both sides.

According to eyewitnesstohistory.com, on the evening of Dec. 24 a company of German soldiers delivered a chocolate cake to the British soldiers across from them, with a note that proposed a cease-fire so the Germans could hold a concert.

The British accepted the proposal and gave the Germans some tobacco in return. Goodwill soon spread along a 27-mile length of the British line – soldiers even shouted to each other from the trenches, joined in songs and eventually ventured out to meet in no-mans-land.

They talked, exchanged gifts – some even got into pickup soccer matches.

Commanders on both sides issued orders to stop the fraternizing, but those orders were met with a variety of responses. In some areas, the truce ended Christmas Day, while in others it extended into January.

Wherever it occurred, it provided a glimpse of “Peace on earth, goodwill to men” that the earth seemed to have lost sight of in that dark hour.

The world has changed a lot since that Christmas, 100 years ago.

People, not so much.

We still need – more desperately than ever – to put down our weapons, our shovels, our electronic devices and phones, venture out into no-man’s-land and look each other in the eyes.

What a wonderful Christmas it will be if we’ll just stop lobbing shells at each other and instead go meet in the middle, cake in hand.

Close your eyes and you can almost hear them singing “Silent Night.” That’s a Christmas worth remembering.

This one can be, too.

Bob Buckel is editorial director for the Messenger.

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