Left Justified: Christmas miracles

Wouldn’t it be a Christmas miracle if all war stopped? If all the armies, the gangsters, the criminals and the gun nuts did not expend any ammunition in honor of the Prince of Peace? Well, that happened in the midst of one of the worst wars of the 20th century.

The story is told in the young people’s book Christmas in the Trenches by folksinger John McCutcheon (Peachtree, Atlanta Ga., 2006, illustrated by Henri Sorensen). McCutcheon sang in Rockford, thanks to the efforts of Charlotte’s Web productions (another fine local nonprofit organization). John first heard the Christmas peace story from a backstage janitor while doing a gig in Birmingham, Ala. He was so taken with her tale that he wrote the entire song “Christmas in the Trenches” during the intermission of his concert.

The song almost wrote itself, and he thought it could only be sung during the Christmas season. “I soon learned it deserves—no—needs to be told 365 days a year,” he says. Twenty-two years later, he put together the children’s book, which is now available. It tells of soldiers in the trenches on Christmas Eve who heard each other’s Christmas carols, and soon, they began to sing to each other.

This was in World War I, during the time of No Man’s Land, and armies fighting for inches. One of the soldiers bravely got up from the trench that housed him and his buddies, and walked across No Man’s Land with a white truce flag and a small Christmas tree shining with candles. Suddenly, other soldiers leaped from their trenches and walked toward each other.

Although Christmas in the Trenches is a fictionalized account, the Christmas “truce” of 1914 really happened along points of the 400-mile front line that stretched through eastern France from the Belgian coast in the north to the Swiss border in the south. The story tells how soldiers traded Christmas packages, shared cigarettes and liquor, and even played a little soccer there on the barren land where once they had shot each other.

Of course, the powers that be could not have soldiers declaring truces between each other, but for that brief period, it gave proof that the spirit of Christmas can stop a war, even if only for one or two nights.

I have a copy of the book on display at our new fair trade store, JustGoods, 201 Seventh St., which will be open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and even on Christmas Eve, Sunday, Dec. 24, from noon to 6 p.m., or until the last customer is out the door. You may also be able to purchase the book at Wonderland in Edgebrook Shopping Center.

And in 2007 Rockford’s peace group will be visiting our congressman to ask him to vote against war, at least more than he has in the past. January is “visit your legislator” month, and everyone is encouraged to lobby for peace. You know Halliburton is lobbying on the other side! We want our Congressman to be more open to hopes for a peaceful resolution of world problems, and not always jump to the gun with a gun.

And that is my wish for you—that we may stop this war and all future wars, whether in Baghdad or on Seventh Street, or in our hearts.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the Dec. 20-26, 2006, issue

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