Friday, December 13, 2013
Christmas in the Trenches
My good buddy and musical associate Jim Watson put out this nifty live recording of his very appreciated and long running Christmas show last year I think it was (how time do fly, chillens). You can buy one at his next show, Dec. 22 at the Cave in Chapel Hill, or on line anytime at Mike Craver's store. But I digress.
One of the songs Jim usually sings at the event, and includes on the CD, is called "Christmas in the Trenches." It depicts a real moment in World War I. Soldiers fighting each other stopped fighting on Christmas Eve, for a while, and all had a small Christmas celebration. It's poignant and very touching. As a statement about the abomination of war it's up there with "And the Band Played 'Waltzing Matilda.'" "Christmas in the Trenches" affirms the possibility that love can overcome hate, fear, and evil. This is what our celebration of Christmas aims at affirming. I mean the little kernel, the part that is for at least many of us still there, below the enormous mountain of commercial excess, of marketing, of general hooey, that mostly obscures the point that's still there.
For reasons of propaganda, hate, fear, and evil, we are cursed in the United States with a whole fake news network that has, for at least a decade, rolled out a fake fear about something they call the War on Christmas. It's old hat, a cliche, and silly. But with Megyn Kelly's bold, blatant assertion that both Santa Claus and Jesus are white, Fox News has started a real war on Christmas, in earnest. It's a race war. It's pretty much the same war Adolf Hitler started with the idea that Christianity was an Aryan religion. Ms Kelly waves the Aryan flag, live and in public, attempting to stomp into the pavement a sweet essay by a young woman who is black, and who reported on her childhood experiences of Christmas in a culture where all the symbols are white.
None of this is even new. Peanuts covered this territory in the '60s. Ernie Pyle and Bill Mauldin covered it during those Christmases in the first half of the '40s. Go watch "Mrs Miniver" again, and "Since You Went Away," and even "Stalag 17." And after all that tragedy and blood, our parents would be aghast to find here in the new Century a Fox News, stirring the cauldron of hate yet again, the utter and total opposite of our pitiful efforts to actually celebrate Christmas amid the din of marketing which already comes close to drowning out even the tiny embers that bring a little warmth to a very cold winter. How very sad.
John McCutcheon also recorded the song. here's his version's lyrics, very close to Jim's:
My name is Francis Tolliver. I come from Liverpool.
Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.
To Belgium and to Flanders, to Germany to here,
I fought for King and country I love dear.
It was Christmas in the trenches where the frost so bitter hung.
The frozen field of France were still, no Christmas song was sung.
Our families back in England were toasting us that day,
their brave and glorious lads so far away.
I was lyin' with my mess-mates on the cold and rocky ground
when across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound.
Says I "Now listen up me boys", each soldier strained to hear
as one young German voice sang out so clear.
"He's singin' bloody well you know", my partner says to me.
Soon one by one each German voice joined in in harmony.
The cannons rested silent. The gas cloud rolled no more
as Christmas brought us respite from the war.
As soon as they were finished a reverent pause was spent.
'God rest ye merry, gentlemen' struck up some lads from Kent.
The next they sang was 'Stille Nacht". "Tis 'Silent Night'" says I
and in two tongues one song filled up that sky.
"There's someone comin' towards us" the front-line sentry cried.
All sights were fixed on one lone figure trudging from their side.
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shone on that plain so bright
as he bravely strode, unarmed, into the night.
Then one by one on either side walked into no-mans-land
with neither gun nor bayonet we met there hand to hand.
We shared some secret brandy and wished each other well
and in a flare-lit soccer game we gave 'em hell.
We traded chocolates, cigarettes and photographs from home
these sons and fathers far away from families of their own.
Young Sanders played his squeeze box and they had a violin
this curious and unlikely band of men.
Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more.
With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war.
But the question haunted every heart that lived that wonderous night
"whose family have I fixed within my sights?"
It was Christmas in the trenches where the frost so bitter hung.
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung.
For the walls they'd kept between us to exact the work of war
had been crumbled and were gone for ever more.
My name is Francis Tolliver. In Liverpool I dwell.
Each Christmas come since World War One I've learned it's lessons well.
That the ones who call the shots won't be among the dead and lame
and on each end of the rifle we're the same.
This is why I buy a bottle of scotch around Christmas. Today's the day, after work. They'll no doubt have tinsel up all around the Alcoholic Beverage Control store in Siler City, and spiffy Christmas cartons featuring engraved shot glasses, and Sinatra singing on the PA.
Saturday Morning Update:
Didn't get that bottle yet (no worries--there will still be liquor at the liquor store). We went Christmas shopping in Pittsboro after I got home from work and came home in the dark to see the Cone's lights sparkling through the trees. We then discovered that Ms. Kelly had apparently received some blowback from her attack on Christmas, and has responded exactly like most 13-year-old mean gurrls would, by asserting her profound victimhood in the whole matter. There are no details on the Youtube as yet, but in short Ms Kelly says she was just kidding, can't any one take a joke anymore or what, she was agreeing with the Slate essay if anybody just listened. I'm sure it does sting when a world class kidder like John Stewart takes notice. And I'm sure it would be a blow to Ms Kelly to lose her extremely lucrative job and stature, as a Fox personality with her own national show. There's no where to go for her but down, and fast, and it's possible that even at Fox she's at the moment standing on the precipice. At any rate, as she demonstrates in the aftermath, she is a world class spinner, and there will be work for her somewheres, and more appropriate at that.