Family heirlooms are strange things. To outsiders, they're just bits and pieces of old junk, maybe occasionally worth 25 cents at a garage sale. But to members of the family, they can be priceless. Such was the case the letter the Frank Morgan and his wife, Susan, found in his great grandfather's attic.
They were cleaning out the old house to get it ready for sale. The proceeds were supposed to be evenly divided among the family, but any knickknacks and such would have to argue over if more than one person found something they wanted.
Susan laid claim to an elegant glass pitcher that was delicately engraved with swans and flowers, while Frank's cousin, Robert, wanted some ancient oil cans they found in the garage. Frank hadn't found anything he was interested though – until they found the letter.
He unearthed it from a dusty wooden trunk full of yellowed newspapers, magazines, and bolts of scratchy lace. The envelope was stiff and brittle with age. It was addressed to his great-grandfather, Albert Finnighan Morgan, with a postal stamp from January 3, 1915.
“What have you got there,” Susan asked, seeing him turning it over in his hands.
“Some kind of letter,” Frank answered absently, gingerly opening the aged paper. He unfolded the letter carefully.
She sat down, wiping her forehead. “I could use a break. Read it to me,” she said.
He nodded, adjusted the letter to get the best lighting on the faded writing and began:
Dearest Mother and Father,
I'm writing to you from the front lines of this great struggle we're involved in, a monumental endeavor to restore freedom to our uncertain and fallen world. While the soldiers on the other side are unmistakably the Enemies of our way of life and so much that we hold dear, I can't help but put pen to paper and relate you to the strangest events which occurred this past Friday, the 25th of December.
First though, let me reassure the both of you that I am alive and well, unharmed by the munitions which constantly fly through the air in both directions at all hours of the night and day. It is quite stressful as our sleep is constantly interrupted by the noise of the battle along with the screams of the wounded. The sound of brave men crying out in mortal agony is one that shall certainly remain seared into my memory for many years to come once this terrible conflict is finished. Please convey to Pastor Randall my appreciation for the prayers he sent in his letter. The boys all appreciated hearing the prayers of a Man of God who, like us, had once before endured the long separations from home and the terrors of war which fall on all those who are forced into a fatal embrace with those who wish us harm and damnation. Their spirits were quite enlivened by his gracious words to the Almighty on our behalf.
On this note, I now wish to turn my attention to the events of this Friday past.
It is quite cold here. The water in the trenches remains liquid from our constant movement back and forth, but on the battlefield around us, there is a very hard frost. The temperature, which is never high, to begin with, was dropping quite precipitously as the sun sank behind the horizon, while a lull in the battle lent an air of solemnity to the entire area. As the darkness deepened around us, we huddled close to our tiny fires for warmth and to heat our rations as much as possible. There was not much conversation to be had, so aside from the occasional rustle of clothing as this man or that shifted his position, there was not a sound to be heard anywhere in that freezing cold air which transmits auditory sensations so well.
And that is when we detected the most curious noise rising from outside our trenches. It was very low and melodic, but at the same time very puzzling as we have heard nothing but gunfire, explosions, and screams for so long as to have forgotten what any other sound was like. Eventually, though, we apprehended that it was the sound of singing.
As you might imagine, we were quite startled by this development, for who, we wondered, could be singing in this horrible place, and for what motive could they possibly be engaging in such an endeavor? In an effort to discover who was behaving in this unlikely manner, we cautiously, with much trepidation, inched our eyes and ears above the parapets of our trenches to better learn where this odd music was coming from, and to chance upon why it was so familiar to so many of us, for we had all remarked that it tugged at our memories but none could say why this was so.
Within the instant of raising our heads above the level of the torn and twisted earth outside the relative safety of our trenches, it became obvious what we were hearing. The enemy lines were not far from our own and it was the sound of men's voices coming from their direction, in a deep slow harmony like monks chanting in a church, singing a refrain whose words we could not grasp for it was in the language of the Germans, since it was they who were engaged in this rare conduct, but which melody we quickly grasped as being that of the familiar Silent Night.
I must confess I became quite choked with emotion as I realized our enemies were pausing in the midst of battle to sing hymns of praise to our Savior and to remember the Prince of Peace on the night of His birth while we were in the midst of so bloody a conflict. I dared not glance at the men on either side of me lest they catch sight of the quite unmanly tears that were blurring my vision so suddenly, but upon hearing a chorus of sniffles all about me I came to understand I wasn't the only one burdened with a heavy heart yet uplifted at the same time. Down the line a bit I heard one of our own men begin to sing in time with the Germans, in our own language of course, but the same melody and tempo.
Almost without thinking, men all about me spontaneously joined in and began singing as well. I heard a rusty voice, rather close to me, singing along with them but I failed to see who it might be, and it required of me several lengthy moments before it dawned on my consciousnesses that this odd, somewhat tuneless voice was my own! There has never been anyone more surprised than I was at that particular moment.
I can see your faces now, surprised that we would, or could, join together with our mortal enemies in song and praise of the Lord of the Universe. I quite understand your shock and dismay. In our defense, I can only say we were caught up in the power of the moment. But what happened next is simply beyond human explanation or comprehension.
As one man we dropped our weapons and stood on the frozen ground in plain view of our enemy's gun barrels and advanced through the broken bloody turf we have come to call No-Man's Land toward the German line, singing as we went. Even more astounding yet, within the passage of only a moment or two, the Germans themselves executed the same maneuver, arising from their fortifications and advancing unarmed across the barren earth toward us, still singing as they came. If ever there was a more unexpected moment in all of human history I cannot for the life of me imagine what it might be.
It was glorious and magnificent and terrifying and mind-boggling all at the same time. It was just simply unprecedented.
When we met in the middle only a few of us could make ourselves understood to the other but the spirit of the moment, dare I say, the Spirit of God, endeavored to assist us in communicating our wishes and desires with barest of gestures and only a few expressions upon our faces. In that place, at that frozen instant in time, a faint nod and a quirk of the lips seemed to convey more meaning than all the books ever written in all the libraries on Earth.
In short, we got along famously with men whom only minutes before we had been doing our utmost to main and kill, and whom in return had been trying with all their might to annihilate us. To name the situation amazing would be doing it a grave disservice, and yet, for several hours, indeed, for the remainder of the night and into the next morning, that strange unplanned peace endured in a location that previously had been devoted to the utmost savagery. It was extraordinary beyond all description, and my feeble attempts herein are, let me wholeheartedly assure you, wholly inadequate to the task. Perhaps when I return I shall be able, with the passage of time and distance from this stupendous event, to render a more accurate account of the events and emotions of that night.
Looking forward to seeing you and embracing you upon my eagerly awaited return,
I am, your son in the flesh and in the spirit of God,
Jonathan Herbert Morgan.
Frank shook his head at the letter. “I remember reading about this in the history books,” he mused. “It was in World War I. They called it the Christmas Truce.”
Susan leaned forward. “I remember that too. Didn't a lot of the higher ups, the generals and such, didn't they hate it or something?”
“They sure did.” Something fell out of the old envelope. “What's this?” He bent down and picked it. He unfolded the paper gently. His eyes widened as he scanned it.
Susan felt a tiny frisson of dread at what she suddenly knew was coming. “What does it say?”
He looked up at her, his eyes starting to mist over. “We regret to inform you that your son, Corporal Jonathan Herbert Morgan, was killed in action on January 4, 1915, while leading a charge against the enemy position.”
They sat in silence for a moment, then Susan lifted her head. “Now that great grandpa is in heaven, I guess he's finally getting to hear the story straight from his son.”
Frank's heart lifted unaccountably as he contemplated her words. “Yeah, I guess he is,” he smiled. “I guess he is.”