Avoiding Hostile Holidays - Step 2

Holiday gatherings can heighten family tensions about family wealth or family business. Firefights can mar the Season for celebrating family and fortune.

So how to avoid hostile Holidays? How to enhance celebration and divert conflagration?

Step #2 – A Family Holiday Truce: “I no shout, you no shout. OK?”

By 1914, trenches dug by WWI combatants stretched from Switzerland to the North Sea. (The U.S. had not as yet entered the war.) At some points, forward trenches of the opposing armies (largely Germans and Austrians against English and French) were no more than seventy-five yards apart, separated by a No Man’s Land littered with unburied dead.

The 1914 truce began sporadically. As Christmas day approached, artillery and small arms fire subsided, and then mostly ceased. Here and there, small trees lighted with candles appeared on the parapets. From the German side came carols like “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night). A French opera tenor answered with “Minuit Chretiens” (O Holy Night).

With white flags raised, troops on both sides left the trenches for No Man’s land seeking to bury dead comrades, chanting “We no shoot, you no shoot”. In time, they collaborated in grisly battlefield funerals.

Conversations were mostly in English – a number of German troops had previously worked in England. A lively trade began: medals, buttons, gloves, scarves, as well as tea, tobacco, sweets from Holiday boxes sent by their respective governments. On Christmas day there were gigantic soccer matches, races on bicycles without tires, even peaceful visits to enemy fortifications.

Though high commands on both sides condemned such fraternization and threatened to court martial participants, the 1914 truce escalated. Indian Gurkhas and Garwahl troops added their exotic seasonal celebrations.

Corporal Adolph Hitler, though present at the front lines, refused to fraternize.

After Christmas day the truce began to unravel. A French warning to Germans read: “Be on guard tomorrow. A general is coming to visit our position. For reasons of shame and honor, we will have to fire.” Ordered to resume battle, a German sergeant protested, “We can’t – they are good fellows, and we can’t!” He later confessed, “We spent that day and the next trying to shoot the stars down from the sky.” Mourned the London Daily Mirror, “1915 darkens over. The lull is finished. The absurdity and the tragedy renew themselves.”

Historian Stanley Weintraub speculates that twentieth century history might have been astonishingly different had the 1914 truce held. He recounts a number of missed opportunities to foreshorten the war.

In a real sense WWI was a family war. Kaiser Wilhelm and George V were both grandsons of Queen Victoria. Troops on both sides were largely indifferent to the outcome, provided they returned home safely.

Unfortunately, too many domestic family wars escalate hostilities during the Holidays. Unless, of course, someone chances to raise a white flag. A few collegial cousins can generate a family Holiday truce. So can in-laws weary of the battle, even seniors willing to venture a late life act of tough love.

A serious family truce could begin in jest: “I no shout, you no shout. OK?”

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