This is Day 5 of the 12 Days of YMF-Mas! Whether you love or dread the holidays, we’re here to help make spirits bright. Thanks for reading, and happy holidays!
If Provo is the pit of the Happy Valley peach, BYU is, well, whatever is inside the pit. It’s a strange, strange place, a place where beards are offensive and Ultimate Frisbee is a real sport. But this is the season of giving, so I’m going to give BYU some credit for one of its more redeeming qualities: free International Cinema.
On more than one occasion I ditched an awkward ward activity to take in a movie instead, and it was always a good idea. Though my all-time favorite was one called La Misma Luna—a story about a young Mexican boy who sneaks across the border into America to find his mother—I am forever indebted to the fine people at International Cinema for introducing me to Joyeux Noel.
This film is based on a true story and takes place in the filthy, freezing trenches of World War I. On Christmas Eve in 1914, in various places along the Western front, enemy soldiers came out of their trenches for a ceasefire, exchanging gifts, singing carols, and sharing meals. In some places, the celebration went on for days, and opposing sides even helped one another bury their dead. Word of the unauthorized ceasefires eventually reached commanding officers, who furiously ordered the fighting to continue.
Joyeux Noel is a depiction of one such ceasefire. A famous German singer has come to entertain his country’s troops on Christmas Eve, and in the midst of a carol he is suddenly joined by bagpipes from the enemy Scottish trench. The next moment is one of the most powerful things I’ve ever seen in a movie. The German continues singing as he climbs out of the trench, carrying with him a small Christmas tree which had been sent to cheer up the soldiers. Others try to hold him back, insisting it’s a trap, but he ignores them. Singing “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” he walks through the snow and places the small tree in between the trenches, bowing humbly as he finishes his song. Other soldiers follow suit, and the celebration begins.
I strongly recommend the entire film, but if you’re too busy for a whole Christmas movie, first of all I’m sorry your life is that busy. And second of all the part you have to see is in this clip. Start it at 4:50.
This movie is set in a horrific low point in human history. WWI was long and gruesome, unprecedented in its destruction. Of the estimated 10 million military deaths, about a third were caused not by battle itself but from diseases contracted in the cold, wet trenches. It is difficult for me to think of a more miserable time or place.
Yet out of this nightmare came an unbelievable moment, a moment where bitter hatred gave in to goodness. Imagine it. People shared precious rations of chocolate and liquor with those whom, hours before, had been shooting at them. They showed one another pictures of their families. They told stories and laughed and missed home. Who knows how long the peace would have lasted without the orders which stopped it.
What is it about Christmas that makes us put down our weapons and embrace those we once hated? How do we so quickly forget everything that divided us? We hear so much about miracles this time of year—so much that the idea might seem trite—but, truly, it cannot be anything less than a miracle. It is a spontaneous ceasefire in the midst of war. Something beyond us, something bigger and better that we cannot see, gives us permission to stop fighting, to crawl out of our trenches and feel things we’d forgotten we could feel.
Whether the war is between you and another, or if it rages silently inside your own heart, I hope you’ll let Christmas be the peacemaker we all so desperately need.
Erin is originally from Simi Valley, California and studies international affairs and Arabic at the University of Utah. She loves any combination of writing, movies, politics, friends, and food.