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Congressman Morgan Griffith

Congressman Griffith's Weekly E-Newsletter 12.19.16
By Congressman Morgan Griffith
Washington, DC (Dec. 19, 2016) - A Christmas Message

The Christmas season is a time to gather to celebrate. The Nativity story is familiar to most, whether Christian or not: Mary and Joseph with Jesus in a manger, where shepherds and kings came to honor him. For over two thousand years, we have celebrated this event and pondered its meaning. The Christmas story celebrates the promise of redemption for our world.

While I respect those of all faiths, as a believer, Christmas is most important to me and to many in the Ninth Congressional District. Also, the Christmas season has a way of bringing out the best in people, even during horrific times.

It is hard to imagine a bleaker place than the Western Front in World War I. For four years, the armies of Germany and the Allied Powers engaged in trench warfare. Soldiers lived in muddy trenches crawling with vermin. They were under bombardment and sniper fire constantly. When they attacked the enemy, they charged into “No Man’s Land” between the trenches, where they were unprotected from machine gun fire. Over a million died.

But in many places along the Western Front on Christmas Eve 1914, the misery was put on hold. According to “The Story of the WWI Christmas Truce” by Mike Dash of Smithsonian.com, German soldiers sang “Silent Night” and the British responded with “The First Noel.” A few from both sides left their lines and met in No Man’s Land. Then, a few became hundreds. Men who had shot at each other hours before now shook hands, swapped gifts, and even played soccer.

The truce lasted through Christmas Day, and then the men returned to fighting each other. World War I lasted nearly four more years. As casualties mounted and new horrors such as poison gas were introduced, people looked back on the Christmas Truce with astonishment.

Decades later, the folk musician John McCutcheon wrote a song about this episode called “Christmas in the Trenches.” He sings it from the perspective of a fictional Liverpool soldier named Francis Tolliver who experiences the Christmas Truce. When McCutcheon performed the song in Denmark in 1988, he met a group of four old men who had traveled from Berlin to hear him. The men had taken part in the truce, but when they told younger generations their story, no one believed them.*

McCutcheon’s song captured a moment that seemed too incredible to be true. Amid the hatred and violence of World War I, men could join in goodwill for at least one night to share in the celebration of Christmas.

Another event during a terrible war hits closer to home. According to historian Robert Thompson writing for the Civil War Trust, Union and Confederate armies at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, were awaiting the next day’s battle one December night during the War Between the States. A Union band played “Yankee Doodle” and “Hail Columbia.” Soldiers in the Confederate camps heard the songs, and one of their bands responded with “Dixie.”

This friendly musical battle continued until a Union band started playing “Home, Sweet Home.” The song, written by John Howard Payne, was a popular tune for men on both sides who missed home and their families, especially around Christmastime. Soon Union and Confederate bands were playing the song together.

In the words of one soldier, “after our bands had ceased playing, we could hear the sweet refrain as it died away on the cool frosty air.”

In the film history publication Classic Images, Frances Ingram writes about a direct descendant and namesake of the songwriter John Howard Payne. This John Payne grew up in southwest Virginia and attended Salem High School on Broad Street. He worked hard to bring a Christmas tale of childhood faith to the silver screen, and then starred in it as a lawyer who proved that Santa Claus is real. The film is Miracle on 34th Street.

As it was true for the soldiers in the trenches in Flanders and in the encampments at Murfreesboro, the message of Christmas is true for you, too. No matter what your circumstances are this year, I pray you will remember what the angel of the Lord told the shepherds on that field over two thousand years ago: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born . . . a Savior . . .” (Luke 2:10-11).

Merry Christmas! Peace and good will to all.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office.  You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671.  To reach my office via email, please visit my website at  www.morgangriffith.house.gov.

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIxqJlnH2m8,/a>

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