I have long been fascinated with the many stories of miracles during the Christmas season in our American wars. I know what it is like to be away from home at Christmas during the war. I know the loneliness and the longing to be with family, and although you were with your band of brothers, you found yourself filled with emptiness and a void they could not fill. But that is life in the warzone, and you battle through it.
The eight years of the Revolutionary War have more stories than one could relate to or even know. However, the Christmas Miracle of General George Washington’s troops stands out. It was, possibly, the defining moment in the war that paved the way for the unthinkable victory by the undermanned and under-equipped colonists.
Christmas was not widely celebrated during the Revolutionary period due to the Puritanical ban, but some had become more open to the celebration. One colonist recorded in his diary some interesting thoughts regarding Christmas. On Christmas Eve in 1775, from Staunton, Virginia, he described the pastimes of the holiday celebration. He said, “The evening I spent at Mr. Guys. I sang for an hour, at the good people’s desire, Mr. Watt’s admirable hymns. I myself was entertained; I felt myself improved. So much love to Jesus is set forth so much divine exercise.” That is truly what the Christmas focus should be, Jesus, not simply His birth but the entire journey of bringing salvation to man.
December played a crucial role in the war effort on numerous occasions. The Congress established the Navy in November 1775, and in December, King George III issued his royal proclamation closing the American colonies to all commerce and trade. That edict was to be implemented in March 1776. It was also in December that Congress learned that France might be willing to aid the colonist in the war with Britain.
In early December 1776, the British captured the naval base at Newport, Rhode Island, and then on the 11th of December, Washington’s daring crossing of Delaware took place. On December 25, 1776, General Washington conducted his infamous surprise raid on the 1500 British Hessians at Trenton, New Jersey. The battle lasted only about an hour, with the Hessians surrendering and a thousand enemy troops captured.
It was Christmas in 1783 when General Washington chose to step down as the formal head of the Continental Army. The peace treaty had been signed in November, and Washington longed to go home to private life. In a measure, that too was a miracle because Washington was so revered that he could have remained as the head of the Army and become King of America. Still, his heart was for Freedom, and he rejected the idea of an American monarchy.
In a very real way, Christmas brought us the Prince of Peace and the freedom to worship Him in the manner we choose as a free nation. The fight for individual freedom and liberty was the prize sought and, if you will, the gift given to America at Christmas.
Christmas has played a role in the time of war. In World War I, we find the story of the Christmas Truce. On Christmas Eve at around 4 PM, the soldiers were in the trenches waiting to be relieved after dark. Suddenly, they heard singing and merriment and were surprised. News slowly filtered down the line that the German and English officers had agreed to a truce and began giving each other a concert. Lance Corporal R.S. Coulson of the London Rifle Brigade wrote to his mother that they sang every song they could think of. A bonfire was lit, and everyone walked about as though they were at a picnic.
On Christmas Day, the men and officers entered each other’s trenches and exchanged smokes and souvenirs. Some tried to arrange a football game between the opposing forces. During the truce, both sides were able to retrieve their casualties. The Germans brought the dead English troops from some of the houses near their trenches. It was tranquil and unthinkable that such an event could transpire.
German newspapers picked up the story and pointed out the dangers of fraternization. An order was issued that no future such event was allowable, and any violation would be considered high treason. War is not a sport, but this heartwarming story reveals the humanity of the men with boots on the ground on both sides. The men in the trenches were not the men in Hitler’s headquarters seeking to dominate the world. They were doing what they were told and movingly celebrated Christmas.
Looking back through the annals of history, I find some interesting events that transpired on Christmas Day.
- On Christmas Day, 800 AD, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne “emperor of the Romans” at St. Peter’s Basilica.
- On Christmas Day, 1066 AD, William the Conqueror was crowned king of England.
- On Christmas Day, 1776, General George Washington and the Continental Army crossed the Delaware River.
- Christmas Day 1814 The Treaty of Ghent ended the War of 1812.
- Christmas Day, 1868, President Andrew Jackson issued the final pardon to Confederate soldiers.
- Christmas 1914 was the WW I Christmas Truce.
- Then, on Christmas Eve, 1968, Apollo 8 entered the moon’s orbit.
A broadcast aired with the three astronauts Borman, Lovell, and Anders reading the opening lines from Genesis and ended with the famous line, “Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth.” Today that would be disallowed, and the astronauts vilified.
My blog today is focused on Christmas, and I hope these simple recounts of history reveal that there is hope for mankind. There is hope when we focus on something higher than ourselves, politics, and our differences. There is hope when we allow the love of God to be superimposed on our human hearts. If we could see the incredibleness of God’s Gift to mankind through the birth, life, death, resurrection, and soon return of Jesus, we would find the path to peace.
So, I say, MERRY CHRISTMAS, and may the Love and Peace of God fill your heart, home, and life this Christmas Season and every day of the coming year. We are more than our differences if we will embrace God’s incredible love and forgiveness.
God bless you, and God bless America!