A recreation of the Christmas truce of 1914 received over 15 million Youtube views in the past few weeks. On the other hand, the most famous thing George Washington did at Christmas-time was cross the Delaware to attack the Hessians. It would seem obvious which was more in keeping with the Christmas spirit. The truce, surely not attacking people recovering from Christmas dinner.
I mean, how would you feel if George Washington came barging through your front door on Christmas morning, guns ablazing. Not very Christmassy, right? But what seems obvious is not always right.
George Washington had accurately predicted that the Hessians would be off their guard that day, and found them, as expected, recovering from their own celebration of Christmas. We thus easily routed the seemingly unroutable professional soldiers on their one unprepared morning of the year.
On the surface, killing people on Christmas doesn???t seem very Kris Kringly. On the surface, this act of war, on Christmas, seems a pretty stark contrast to the (partial, ad hoc) Christmas truce 100 years ago, between the Germans and English, during the First World War. That???s the real Christmas wartime story, surely.
But is it?
World War I was caused, ultimately, by disagreements amongst cousins (the royal class, who still held real political power in Europe, were all related to each other, sometimes quite closely). From the soldiers??? perspective, it was as if some were employed by the Smith- Johnsons, and some by the Smith-Harringtons. Part of their job was to kill each other, in order to decide which sorts of flowers the various Smiths would plant in their various gardens next spring. (To make the analogy complete, one group of Smiths, say the Smith-Harringtons, were a tad more autocratic than the Smith-Johnsons. Still, there was no spiritual, substantive, fundamental difference between the two branches of the same family.)
In this context, fighting ought to have seemed incredibly stupid to any soldier, at least one not related to royals. (Arguably, it should have seemed more ridiculous to a member of a royal family, being in a war against your own cousins ??? except, of course, that was what cousins did, in those days. Royal cousins, at least.)
Despite all that, still, it surely seems miraculous, doesn???t it?
In a brief period around Christmas,1914, on the front (in scattered and noncontiguous areas) a truce was called, in some places lasting ???til the new year. (While in other areas of the front, soldiers, believing the truce was universal, got shot when they stuck their heads above the trenches.) Still, still, still…where it did happen, it surely seemed that good sense prevailed amongst the soldier class, of a kind that did not appear amongst the royal isn???t this the ultimate Christmas wartime miracle?
Well…it didn???t stop World War II from happening, nor stop the tragic decisions at Versailles, but…it was a kind of hopeful moment of humanity, a spark of spirituality in the midst of a kind of hell, right? You at least must agree this is infinitely more Christmassy than George Washington surprising sleeping Hessians on Christmas morning.
George Washington, of course, fought a war for very different reasons than World War I was fought. His was not a fight amongst cousins for greater power or glory, cousins who held the same basic values. The American War of Independence was fought for a spiritual value of liberty, in opposition to the materialism of the British empire, a juggernaut which put wealth before ideals. The American War of Independence not only put ideals before wealth, but even before life itself: ???Give me liberty or??????
George Washington, you are forced to conclude when you look at his entire life, viewed Christmas much the way the modern world does ??? as a holiday, more than as the birthday of Jesus. Having said that, George Washington???s entire world view was such that every day was filled with respect for ???Providence???and his fellow man.
Although we have fallen far from the ideals of the American War of Independence, a flicker of its glory remains, and can be revivified if we begin fighting, again, for liberty, and not cheaper oil prices or comfier cushions for the sofas in front of our TVs. George Washington???s Christmas present to you, of which you receive at least the possibility every day, liberty, is something that would not exist had George Washington failed to cross the Delaware one Christmas morning to kill Hessians (most surrendered, actually, and ended up peaceful farmers in the area. Many of their descendants live in the area, to this day. The good idea of liberty can have great power.)
Surely, this possibility of liberty is longer lasting and more important than a few brief soccer games over a day or two in no-man???s land, a few months into the most inhuman war in modern history, a war that ended up being a prelude to an even worse war. George Washington???s actions on Christmas, clearly, changed the world. The Christmas truce of the First World War changed nothing.
One nil, GW.
Austin Washington is the author of The Education of George Washington, amongst other, sometimes counterintuitive, things http://www.AustinWashington.com/George