Christmas cards cancelled again – too late for cousins in Canada.
C is for…
Cantique de Noel: ‘O Holy Night’
Pierre sat on the muddy floor of the trench. The rain had been continuous and unrelenting for more than a week. His jacket buttoned tightly, sinking his neck into his jacket deeply, he tipped his hat forward, hoping as much rain as possible would drip from the peak onto the muddy pools around his feet rather than down his face.
He had been in the trenches for what seemed an eternity. The Franco-Prussian war had started 17 months ago. Pierre had joined the army fighting alongside his brothers against the Germans and Prussians. Distressingly two of his brothers had been shot along with hundreds of his comrades.
Earlier someone had shouted it was Christmas Eve. They were sat in appalling conditions, no real food. He hadn’t slept properly for months, being woken by people being shot, wounded and screaming in pain or the by rain and the wind and the freezing cold. It was a desolate place to be; his fellow soldiers were in very poor health. They suffered from injury or tuberculosis which would eventually kill them. The war seems to be ruthlessly long and from what Pierre had heard unwinnable.
Warm thoughts about a hearty meal around a warm fire with his family on Christmas Eve and then singing in church filled Pierre’s mind. He looked around him: men jumping up and firing their guns above his head then falling back down. If they were alive they shook violently as they reloaded their guns. Those that weren’t so lucky were pulled to one side as the fighting continued. He felt that everyone should be thinking of the redeemer; that Jesus had come down to earth to save everyone. He couldn’t understand why they were fighting and why they hadn’t stopped for Christmas.
Pierre threw down his gun while all around him both armies were firing furiously. Climbing out of the muddy trench he stood in full view of both sides. He no longer cared about being shot, lifting his head towards the heavens, looking upwards he started to sing “Minuit, Chretiens, c’est l’heure solennelle ou L’Homme Dieu descendit jusqu’a nous,” the beginning of “Cantique de Noel.” At first his voice was quiet and wobbly, as he continued so his voice gained in strength, A song banned by the French Church had been enough to bring a ceasefire. Looking around him as he bought the song to a close he saw a German infantry man climbed out of his hiding place. He started to sing in German the beginning of Martin Luther’s ‘From heaven above to earth I come.’ They both returned to trenches, joyous sounds ricocheted, peace followed for the next twenty four hours, honouring Christmas day.
For one day and one night, Pierre and all his comrades and enemies were able to eat, sit and sleep in the knowledge that, for the first time in seventeen months, there was a spirit of brotherhood and peace on both sides.
Cold: I had forgotten how cold winter can be until today. So cold that my fingers are numb, ‘chilled to the bone’. But the sunset is golden peachy, pink and brilliant light blue and now fading, turning whispery pink and dull blue, til it’s dark. But so cold. I pass a young boy sitting on a step, wearing a red and white bobble hat, too young to feel the biting cold, and I feel old; another year older…
Crackers: Oh joy! Break out the Christmas Crackers! Who are you going to pull this year? Will your snap snap? Will your hat fit or slip straight down onto your shoulders like a poor man’s Edwardian ruff? Will they be regular crackers, containing a small piece of plastic crap that looks like it was made in a broken pre-war mould operated by a blind man, or will they be LUXURY crackers containing a small piece of tin crap that looks like a filling that’s fallen out of the same blind man’s teeth?
Whatever your cracker, whether no expense spared or all expense spared, it will provide you with literally seconds of fun as you cross hands Auld Lang Syne stylee across the dining room table and pull one another to thunderous climax. Hem hem.
And then there are the mottos. A good Christmas cracker will contain corny jokes with laboured puns that everyone can have a good crack at “guessing”. Veteran cracker-pullers will have the advantage here, because the same tired old jokes have been doing the rounds for decades and they will, in the manner of a very competitive Trivial Pursuiter, have memorised every one. Even better than “Getting” the joke is coming up with a new answer that is marginally funnier, or cornier, or both, than the original. Paper hats off to that man or woman.
Featured Writer Katherine Price (Cantique de Noel). Additional Contributors: Carolyn Gray, Peppy Scott, David Smith.