Did You Know?On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary hiatus of the war for the celebration of Christmas. The warring countries refused to create any official cease-fire, but on Christmas the soldiers in the trenches declared their own unofficial truce.
Starting on Christmas Eve, many German and British troops sang Christmas carols to each other across the lines, and at certain points the Allied soldiers even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing.
At the first light of dawn on Christmas Day, some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs. There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a good-natured game of soccer.
Some soldiers used this short-lived ceasefire for a more somber task: the retrieval of the bodies of fellow combatants who had fallen within the no-man’s land between the lines.
The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare. It was never repeated—future attempts at holiday ceasefires were quashed by officers’ threats of disciplinary action—but it served as heartening proof, however brief, that beneath the brutal clash of weapons, the soldiers’ essential humanity endured.
During World War I, the soldiers on the Western Front did not expect to celebrate on the battlefield, but even a world war could not destory the Christmas spirit. (Quoted from http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-i/christmas-truce-of-1914)
102 years later, Christmas is coming again, and I have already seen some mommy-claws coming out. I’ve overheard some conversations, seen some threads on Facebook, and recognized the early signs. “You’re buying that for your child?” “Your family observes that tradition?” “You don’t celebrate this way? Your child is missing out on the best part of Christmas!”
Christmas traditions and celebrations are near and dear to our heart. Or, our tradition of abstaining from tradition is a principle we hold with great passion. And when something is near and dear to our heart, or held with great passion, it can tend to blind us to the fact that not everyone will hold the same passion. When we hold strong opinions, we are in danger of entering a war zone, sending fiery darts toward anyone who takes a different view. Christmas involves some of our strongest opinions, and therefore some of the most dangerous minefields between moms who approach it differently.
Let me be the first to confess, and hopefully then to wave the white flag and start a round of Christmas carols. I am so quick to judge and be critical of other families at Christmas. Whether its over the present they bought their kid or the tradition they follow that I think is unnecessary, it’s so easy to assume that my way is right and their way is wrong. Like so many other areas of life, I never even realized I was doing this until I felt it done to me. That moment when someone heard that my kids have American Girl dolls, and they said in an arrogant voice, “Well, my kid wants one of those too, but there’s no way I’m going to let them have a doll that costs so much.” That moment when someone said I was the meanest mom they had ever heard of because we didn’t tell our kids Santa was real. That moment when I explained for the zillionth time that no, we don’t have an Elf on the Shelf only to hear, “Well, it’s just a chance for the kids to have fun!” That moment when someone tells me that clothes from Justice are way overpriced and inappropriate right after I told them that my daughter asked for a Justice gift card. Those little jabs that immediately leave you feeling insecure and thinking you’ve accidentally done Christmas all wrong.
Our family observes a middle-of-the-road mixture of the extremes of Christmas: we don’t “do” Santa, in that we don’t give him the credit for any gifts or tell our kids that he’s coming to our house, but we do have several pictures of our kids on Santa’s lap, just like the ones of them with Mickey Mouse at Disneyworld. He’s just another fun character. Likewise, we don’t spend hundreds of dollars per kid, but we do try to get them at least one “big” thing that they really want, and we haven’t been above passing their more expensive requests on to the gift-givers in our families whose budgets may be bigger than ours or pooling money from different people in order to get a big ticket item. We don’t do Elf on the Shelf, but we also have never been successful at keeping up with the Adorenaments or any other Advent observation that we’ve attempted.
Because we have this weird mixture of sort-of-spiritual and sort-of-typical, I’ve felt the jabs from both extremes. And feeling the jabs myself wakes me up to the fact that I’ve thrown several darts myself. Mostly they’re all in my self-righteous thoughts, but I’m sure that several arrogant, smug statements have escaped my lips regarding Christmas and how someone else celebrates it. This is to my shame.
There have been so many calls for a truce in the Mommy wars in general, several right here on this blog. This is a call for a Christmas truce specifically. Regardless of what you believe Christmas should look like, please realize that there is so much room for freedom for it to look differently in another house. Personally, it blows my mind that any mom would want to stay up late to make a mess and make it look like an elf did it, only to have to clean it up and make another elaborate mess the next night, but hey, if that’s fun for you, go for it. It also blows my mind that parents would spend a ton of money on the gifts their kids want most, and then let a make-believe entity get all the credit for giving them, but if you’re fine with Santa stealing your thunder, go for it.
Now, to be clear, there are other, more grounded, reasons we don’t join those particular trends. Most simply, we don’t want to lie to our kids. And there are reasons we don’t buy certain must-have items or spend over a certain amount of money, even if we had a little extra we could have spent. And that’s kind of the point: there are usually reasons for why people do what they do. Maybe you think they’re good reasons, maybe they seem to be purely selfish or misguided. But your standards are not the plumb line for every other family. My standards are not, either.
This Christmas, I’m calling for a truce in my own heart. I want to give you the freedom to celebrate Christmas (or not celebrate it) in the way that you have decided is best for your family. I ask you to give me the same freedom. I do want to challenge all of us: think it through. Don’t just resort to the default of what you’ve always done or what everyone else does. Let’s think through our reasons and motivations for what we do, and if we find selfish motivations (I really don’t think this gift is appropriate for my kid but he really wants it and I want him to be happy with me, so…) or habits that have completely distorted or obscured the focus on Christ, then let’s be brave enough to change up our traditions a little. But however we decide to mark December 25, let’s please offer grace for other moms to celebrate differently.
And, unlike the soldiers on that beautiful night in 1914, let’s let the truce stand. Let’s not resume warfare as soon as the holidays are over. I hate the feeling I get when another mom raises an eyebrow or makes a comment or asks a question in that certain tone of voice about some aspect of my mothering, so I’m trying hard to root out those seeds of envy and self-righteousness and arrogance that reside in my heart that lead me to do the same things to others. That ugliness still pops up in me, so I still have work to do.
I want to focus my warfare on my own sin, and not on other mothers. I want to send grace your way this Christmas instead of ammunition. I hope you will join me, and I hope we can also show each other grace when we forget and get smug again. I hope to write more later about some thoughts to consider when we’re deciding how we’ll do Christmas, but I just wanted to start from this point of grace.
So. . .
Have a wonderful Christmas, however you choose to celebrate!