Joyeux Noël: without an enemy there can be no war

Merry Christmas (or Joyeux Noël in French) is based on the famous Christmas truce that happened in 1914 during World War I. I knew about the truce from a ‘this day in history’ email which I received last year, and found it remarkable that this event ever happened in history. And so after learning that this movie was showing at a local theatre, when my friends suggested that we watch this movie on New Year’s eve, I did not give it a second thought. In the end I found watching this movie a truly memorable, heart-warming experience.

The movie begins with a scene in which three little boys, in Germany, France, and Britain respectively, are standing in front of a blackboard and are repeating the chauvinistic rhetoric of the day. I guess it is an appropriate picture to describe the situation then. I vaguely remember what I learned in high school on why the war broke out in the first place. One source says that the causes were not as clear as the second world war, and there are still debates going on over what exactly caused the war. But I think many would agree that the war took place during a time when the air of chauvinism was very thick. And if we learn from the history of the war–how nation after another took part in it and how millions of lives are sacrificed during the war,–the Christmas truce is indeed “a shining episode of sanity from among the bloody chapters of World War One” (www.firstworldwar.com).

It happens on a cold winter day the first Christmas of the war, when the Scots, the Frenchmen, and the Germans are involved in a tense trench warfare along one of the battle fronts. That Christmas eve, soldiers from the three nations have their own little celebrations in each of their own trenches. If there is one thing in common among the three groups of soldiers, it is this burning question within their hearts: How could I be here, when I am supposed to be home, celebrating Christmas with my wife and children? So the Scots, with their bagpipes, start to sing a song (which is the soundtrack of the movie) expressing their longing of home. The voices from the Scot trenches are heard by the Germans. They begin to sing a Christmas song, which to their surprise, is joined by the bagpipes from the Scots. Another song soon follows, and soldiers from both trenches start to crawl out of their dugout and sing songs together. The Frenchmen, dumbfounded by the sight they are seeing, think that they must be dreaming. Soon they realise that they are not dreaming, and start to join the fanfare with bottles of champagne in their hands. Leaders from the three parties decide to hold a truce for the day, during which the soldiers share gifts, tell stories about their families, attend a mass, and even play football. The truce actually continues to the next day, where they bury their deads.

The movie is filled with much humor and also touching moments: the sight of soldiers, who just the day before were shooting at each other, now coming to sit together and listen peacefully to a sermon; the conversation between the French leader and the German leader, revealing truths they find hard to swallow; the cat which a German soldier calls Felix but a Frenchman insists to call it Nestor; the Frenchmen hiding together with the Germans in the German trench while their trench is being shelled by the German artillery and vice versa; and the letters written by the soldiers, telling the world that the day truly happens in history. It is a pity that these extraordinary moments are short-lived only by the interference of the higher-ranked officials–those who might have no other reasons for war but extreme nationalism.

Now why all these wonderful moments are possible? As I ponder upon this, I was struck by one tagline of the movie. It says: “Without an enemy there can be no war.” Just so. The soldiers are engaged in a war. They must be fighting against an enemy. But that short moment that Christmas changes their perceptions completely. They discover that those they are fighting against are not enemies, after all. And how could they fight anymore if they have no enemies? But we can also say that the soldiers have finally found their real enemy. It is this: thinking that they have an enemy that has never existed. Once they realise this, they turn victor, not over an enemy in human form, but over an enemy in the form of hatred and pride. Thus it is rightly said that Merry Christmas is a story of the victory of human kindness.

As I think the tagline over into my daily life, it reminds me the same principle. Our life is a kind of war. In this war, it is important to identify correctly who our enemies are. One thing for sure, we are all fighting against sin (Heb. 12:4, 1 Pet. 2:11). But often we do not consider some sins as enemies, and so we do not fight against them. Instead, we embrace them as allies. Another enemy would be the thoughts of this world, the mindset of this world that set themselves against God (2 Cor. 10:5). We need to develop a critical attitude, but never judgmental, towards all kinds of philosophies that we encounter every day.

Merry Christmas has taught us to discern who our real enemies are, for if we do not see them as enemies, how could we fight?


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