A Silent Night 100 Years Ago

From our American Rural family to yours, we wish you and your loved ones a holiday season and New Year filled with love

By DIANE SMITH for the Flathead Beacon

On Christmas in 1914, somewhere in Belgium, soldiers laid down their weapons and commemorated the holiday. Or so the story goes. Christmas 1914 was only a few months after World War I began. America had not yet joined the war, although, according to the history books, some Americans had already joined the British forces and were fighting alongside them in Belgium. It was early in the hostilities though; poison gas and civilian casualties had yet to leave their indelible marks. Maybe that’s important, maybe not.

According to the story, a German soldier, huddled in his trench on Christmas Day, began singing “Silent Night” loudly enough for his British enemies to hear. “Silent Night” had been written on Christmas Eve almost 100 years earlier by two Austrians, Franz Gruber and Father Joseph Mohr and was, even then, a beloved holiday carol. The German soldier was soon joined in his song by British soldiers. Trench to trench, in German and in English, they sang together. This chorus among enemies continued until British and German soldiers emerged from their dirt bunkers – trusting each other with their lives. These would be the last hours some would spend without fear for a very long time. It would also be the last music some would hear before they died. Simply because it was Christmas Day.

Country music star Garth Brooks wrote an inspiring song about this day called “Belleau Wood.” The last lines are:

11103795_s“But for just one fleeting moment

The answer seemed so clear

Heaven’s not beyond the clouds

It’s just beyond the fear.

No, heaven’s not beyond the clouds

It’s for us to find it here”

I think Garth captured something wonderful with those words. (You don’t think he’ll mind that I called him Garth?) Fear is the great limiter of our humanity. Fear of vulnerability, fear of the unknown, fear of otherness. Yes, fear is useful, but it can also block our view of heaven – however we each perceive it.

When I stand on the bank of the river watching an eagle fly, I am transported. The same happens to me when I hear a remarkable song like “Belleau Wood,” or experience great fellowship with friends or colleagues. Since moving to a small town, I have been transported more often than I dared ever dream. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s place. Regardless, I’m so grateful for those times. Indeed, if heaven is “for us to find,” then this is evidently a good place for me to be looking.

This holiday season, I hope that heaven is within your reach. If you believe the story, then it’s clear that the hope and song of Christmas were enough to unite enemy soldiers 100 years ago. And if you don’t believe the story? Well, we have witnessed time and again the unrelenting power of trust and goodwill.

From our American Rural family to yours, we wish you and your loved ones a holiday season and New Year filled with love, hope and heaven. Happy Holidays!

Learn more about Diane by following her column here or visit American Rural atAmericanRural.org.