Sunday, December 21, 2014

What's Christmas To Me

The time is December 1914. Dark clouds hang over the Western Front. A line of trenches fortified with barbed wires, infantry and artillery split the blood-stained lands from the Swiss-French borders up to the North Sea. The first ever world war has broken out. Millions of soldiers lay dead. Millions more bayed for revenge.

And then, as Christmas drew near, a miracle happened. British and German soldiers surreptitiously crept out of their trenches, congregated at no-man's-land, and acting without superior orders, called for a truce. Greetings and gifts were exchanged. Some accounts even say that both sides staged a football match (in which the Germans - and this would go on to be a recurring theme in modern football - won 3-2). In a magical moment of camaraderie, peace reigned.

Since young, I've found the story very stirring. After all, it touches on three things I find fascinating: Christmas, football and war (although maybe it's only two things, since football could be considered as war). And I am not alone in feeling this way.

The Christmas Truce - A Modern Interpretation

This year, a century after the legendary Christmas Truce, Sainsbury (a British retail chain) collaborated with the Royal British Legion to produce a short video capturing the incident. Was it heart-warming? Yes. Was it tear-jerking? Yes? Was it cliche? Yes, so much so that words like "heart-warming" and "tear-jerking" came to my mind - but so what?

Some quarters have accused Sainsbury for poor taste, exploitation and disrespecting the sacrifices of the dead. Fair enough. Glorifying and romanticising war is to invite trouble. To me, I think such acts of heroism should be celebrated. How is having a kick-about even 'heroic' and comparable to actually fighting and laying down one's life, one may ask? The 'heroism' here is the courage to tap into one's residue of humanity, even when all semblance of humanity is lost; the trust in the humanity of your mortal enemy, even when his natural instinct is to put a bullet into your head; the belief that love can shine through, even in times of war.

The soldiers could have just huddled in their own trenches, and not risk their lives crawling out into the open (in fact, some were shot when they tried; some may have been punished by their superiors for fraternising with the enemy and treason later on). But in the end, the British and German choose to celebrate Christmas together and play football. We should all tip their hats off for these brave soldiers. For the truce bears testament to the indefatigable spirit of humanity.

Why Christmas Is Important

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Goes hand-in-hand. One is to reminisce the year gone, the other is to look forward for the year to come. One is about checking whether you have been naughty or nice, the other is to decide how much nicer or naughtier you ought to be. One is a year-end audit, the other is a new business plan.

Christmas, ultimately, is what you make of it. To some, Christmas is about blood and sacrifice. To others, its simply about the joy of giving and receiving. There's no one right answer. There's no one right Christmas spirit.

This Christmas, Pentatonix (a superbly talented acapella group) hits all the right notes - on the music scale and heart strings - with their original Christmas carol entitled "That's Christmas To Me". Sure, the song is sugar-frosted with all the Christmas cliches you can think of - Christmas tree, Santa, snow, mistletoe, reindeer, stockings, and most of all, joy of family as the only gift one ever needs. At the chorus, the singer wonders (and in a sense, telling us to wonder too): oh, why all these things? And then the singer goes on to explain "'cause that's what Christmas is to me". Not what Christmas is to everyone, but to the singer.

Christmas Is For Everyone, Everywhere

Christmas is about finding and being yourself. Forget the hate, forget the war. Ignore your superiors, ignore your orders. For one brief moment, do what you feel is right, deep down in your hearts. To do good deeds to people, regardless whether they've been naughty or nice, regardless whether they're friend or foe. To love and be loved, unconditionally. Just once, just for Christmas. And who knows? The feeling might last pass New Year...

And so when people argue about what Christmas ought to be and not ought to be, it's rather silly and saddening. There's no way an advert portraying Christmas can escape criticism: show Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman, and it's being capitalistic; show the Christmas truce instead (as Sainsbury had done), and it's triviliasing war; show baby Jesus and Mother Mary, it's religiously insensitive.

Christmas means different things to different people. Why can't people accept that? As a kid, the part I look forward the most is the gifts; today, I simply enjoy staring at Christmas lights and humming to Christmas carols. I don't expect an innocent kid or cynical adult to enjoy a dramatization of the Christmas Truce - but I do expect people not to be a Grinch and kill off the Christmas spirit in others.

A Christmas Love Story

The True Spirit Of Christmas (To Me)

This year, Christmas, to me, is about being true to myself. It's not about worrying whether Jesus, Santa or people think kicking a ball in the middle of a battlefield is being naughty or nice. Christmas comes from the heart. And my heart tells me that I should kick that damn ball anyway, regardless what Jesus, Santa or people think.

This year, Christmas, to me, is about being me. What's Christmas to you?

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