Christmas at War
By Henry Piarrot
In young America, Christmas was initially considered to be a more reverent observation than a cheerful celebration. Because of the seriousness of her peoples’ devotion to their faith, for a time, the reinvented pagan holiday was actually declared illegal by the Puritans in Massachusetts from 1659-1681 and continued to be frowned upon until near the end of the 18th Century. Still, Christmas did not become an official holiday in the US until 1870.
Turning the pages of the next several decades reveal our American predecessors blending of old-world traditions with a newer, more positive perspective, creating a season of celebration unique to our culture. Although, Christmas may have evolved commercially into something a little different than the founders’ intent, at its core, it remains a beloved time for family and friends to gather; celebrating life while continuing to acknowledge the timeless story of the birth that saved the world.
However, for those who have, or are currently experiencing Christmas at war understand that no one pray’s more for “Peace on earth and goodwill to all men”than the soldier, sailor, airman or marine. On this sacred day, the warrior’s thoughts are never far from the priceless memories of family and friends at home. Quietly, they reflect on happy holidays past as they endure endless days in isolated camps or all night patrols in the desert.
The phrase “these are the times that try men’s souls,” the opening line from the first in a series of pamphlets Thomas Paine composed just before Christmas 1776, inspired a few ordinary men to perform an extraordinary feat. On December 25, the ice-choked waters of the Delaware River provided the great obstacle for arguably the essential event of the Revolutionary War.
Far removed from the only lives they ever knew, the almost broken ranks of the Continental Army had very little to celebrate that Christmas Day and appeared long defeated by hunger, exposure and the British infantry. Crossing the mostly frozen river at night, George Washington and his frost-bitten soldiers finally landed at Johnson’s Ferry around 4 am the next morning. For their fellow countrymen, they then selflessly began a sleepless march to Trenton and profoundly routed King George’s infamous Hessian mercenaries.
Near the end of the Civil War, General William T. Sherman captured Savannah, Georgia in 1864 and presented it as a Christmas gift to his boss Abraham Lincoln. Then on Christmas Day, nearly 100 Union soldiers provided a grand gesture of charity to the Southern civilians living outside the city when the charitable Yankees filled several wagons with food and distributed the life-saving sustenance throughout the ravaged countryside.
On Christmas Day 1914, during the First World War, brief truces occurred all along the frontline. These were more often than not instigated by German troops through messages or by singing carols. The cease-fires were ultimately determined “unwarlike” by the generals of the opposing armies and became discouraged in the future.
Nevertheless, the truce of 1914 is yet a unique and historic example of great animosity set aside on Christmas Day. Though demonized in propaganda as their brothers were being killed, many on both sides found the courage to offer goodwill to their enemy in exchange for at least one day of peace.
Today, the bad news is that much of the world is again at war. History teaches us that there is no limit to the cruelty mankind is capable of inflicting upon itself. Consequently, Christmas and war have crossed paths many times since 1776 and through it all, the good news continues to be written by the limitless courage and sacrifice of those who are charged with the advancement and protection of our freedom.
Please include our Veterans in your prayers this Special Season, as I know many will still be far from home in harm’s way. For it is important to remember those who do not have Christmas in their heart, will never find it under a tree.
Henry Piarrot is a Sevier County resident and VP of Operations for Mountain Fresh Hospitality Services. Please send all story recommendations firstname.lastname@example.org