Holiday Truce

writes about the edible exchanges of Christmas 1914

IMAGE: MerlLavoy

IMAGE: MerlLavoy

Christmas has always been a special time of year, uniting families and friends together all over the world, even if only for one day.

Sometimes, amidst the hysteria of Christmas shopping, decorating our houses and spending ridiculous amounts of money on Christmas parties, it is easy to forget what Christmas is really about.

For me, Christmas is a time for sharing and giving, and a time when all prejudices are forgotten, as for just one day, many people have something in common. The idea of uniting together for a common cause was evident during the first world war as a Christmas Day truce occurred in 1914.

Though the truce was not all-encompassing, it was widespread in the trenches between the German and allied forces. A vital aspect of any culture’s Christmas Day is the Christmas meal, and in the trenches on Christmas Day, both German and allied soldiers shared their traditional foods with each other.

Meeting halfway in no-man’s land on Christmas Day, soldiers shook hands, got to know each other and exchanged gifts of food. These included sausages – a traditional delicacy in Germany eaten as a part of the Christmas Eve meal – given by the German soldiers in exchange for chocolate: a huge part of any Christmas tradition, as well as beer, wine, cheese and cake.
Cooking has always been a uniting activity and it was even reported by some sectors that German and allied troops hunted together for hares so that they could celebrate Christmas with fresh meat for their meal.

While this may not have been the traditional English turkey roast with brussels sprouts, potatoes and Christmas pudding, or the German goose or carp roasts with kale, marzipan and fruit bread that the soldiers were used to in their home country, it would have been the perfect way to join together communally under the ceasefire.

Despite the recent controversy that the Sainsbury’s 2014 Christmas advert has sparked, I feel, and I hope many would agree, that the portrayal of the truce shows a real essence of what Christmas ‘spirit’ is all about, regardless of whether it is right to use the issue as a means of advertising.

Fundamentally, the sharing of these gifts and the act of the truce gives us hope that even in times of complete turmoil and chaos, human beings can unite together and forget their troubles – even national troubles – to celebrate a common festivity that they might be unable to celebrate with their loved ones.

This is what Christmas is truly about.

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