Christmas is a time for miracles. Seasonal movies and hymns remind the world of as much. This year, my favorite such miracle was re-enacted during a Sainsbury’s commercial: the World War I Christmas truce. During the dark and bloody days of the “war to end all wars,” the sound of Christmas carols rose from the trenches, replacing explosions and mortar fire as the Kaiser’s troops joined the King’s soldiers in no-man’s land, dropping their weapons to celebrate the birth of Christ in the most appropriate of ways: peacefully.
Germany and the United Kingdom had seen the full extent of human manufactured horror during this conflict.This was the dawn of chemical warfare, and the level of carnage that swept across Europe remains mind boggling, even a hundred years later, especially when one realizes the average citizen really had little stake in the battle, regardless of which side they were on. This was the terrible end result of strategic alliance building, and despite the fact they were on opposite sides of the battlefield, neither Germany nor Britain wanted to shed the other’s blood during the Feast of the Nativity.
To that end, it is worth noting the violence didn’t resume until the military’s higher-ups forced the war to recommence. The Allied and Central Powers, sworn enemies, had briefly come to a realization that the remainder of the world had yet to recognize: people aren’t that different, regardless of what uniform they wear. Alas, the great tragedy of the truce is that while man was the primary architect of this miracle, they also represented its undoing. The mutual respect for mankind was short-lived, and those who became short-term friends on that cold December evening later returned to arms. Regardless, the potential was great and the message strong.
This is still a well-known story. I heard it in parochial school, an example of our Christ-like behavior in times of trouble, and it has inspired documentaries, countless articles, and even a very popular pop song (“Snoopy’s Christmas”). Alas, it is said such a miracle could never occur today. As horrible as the First World War was, humanity’s barbarism has reached greater levels in the decades since, and an intense darkness has been cast across the world, one so thick that even the light of Christmas cannot shine through.
Or can it?
Earlier this week, I stumbled upon an article in a Lebanese newspaper (inexplicably absent from Western media, I might add) that proved an inspiring reminder of the true gift of Christmas. It was about the Shujaiyeh district of war-torn Gaza. There, among the forgotten Christian minority, comprised mostly of Eastern Orthodox and Catholics, the local youth received a most unexpected guest. Clad in traditional red attire, white beard, and iconic hat, a Muslim man named Sameh Wadi traversed the bombed-out landscape in an attempt to bring Christmas cheer to children who have experienced unimaginable sorrow. That Santa Claus would find his way to Gaza and the children who endured last summer’s military campaign between Israel and Hamas, is beyond touching.
That such immense kindness would come by way of a non-Christian, someone who is very likely in danger of being labeled an “apostate” or drawing the ire of Islamist extremists in Hamas, demonstrates a powerful sense of respect and compassion for one’s fellow man. In other-words, it was very much a Christmas miracle, once again crafted by human hands. How appropriate that such selfless bravery and Christ-like behavior would occur in the land of Jesus’ own birth. Evidently miracles don’t occur only in antiquity.
In the words of one of my favorite songs from the Rankin-Bass classic Twas the Night Before Christmas, “don’t expect a miracle, unless you help make it to be.” All over the world, people have done just that; the American media, more consumed with what Kim Kardashian is wearing or where Beyonce went shopping, is just too distracted or uninterested to notice.
In Syria, Christians have decorated the deserted streets for the holiday, commemorating Christmas in spite of the fact violent civil war and the constant threat of an Islamist takeover hangs above their heads. In Iraq, the belly of ISIS’s recently established Caliphate, Christmas was outlawed and strict Sharia Law implemented. Yet, despite this, many will observe a solemn holy day; some Iraqi Muslims, Sunni and Shia alike, have donated clothing and provided aide to the refugee Christian minority, whose suffering, overlooked by many in the West, was recently recognized by Pope Frances. The Pontiff called for compassion and an end to armed conflict in both Iraq and Syria:
“There are so many tears this Christmas. May Christmas bring them hope, as indeed also to the many displaced persons, exiles and refugees, children, adults and elderly, from this region and from the whole world.”
The Palestinians, Syrians, and Iraqis, like much of the Eastern Church, will celebrate Christmas on January seventh. That’s more than a week from now. Perhaps there will be other miracles before then; if they can occur on the battlefield of World War I, or the ruins of Gaza, they can happen anywhere. Perhaps Christians in the West will reflect upon their own trying past and remember their Eastern sisters and brothers in 2015. Perhaps the coming year will be a year of miracles.