All is Calm is beginning to become a holiday tradition in San Diego. This is the third year in a row the show about the 1914 Christmas Eve Truce has been produced in San Diego. The previous two iterations have been partially staged affairs at the Veterans Museum in Balboa Park. This year All is Calm was produced by the San Diego Opera in a fully staged version with three performances (December 8,9, and 10) at The Balboa Theatre.
The show tells the story of the peace that fell over the trenches of World War I on Christmas Eve 1914 in Belgium near Flanders. The all-male cast sings a cappella arrangements of songs and carols which are interspersed with excerpts from letters and poems written by the men involved in the truce.
The story is poignant and full of both hope and despair. We experience something of what used to be a true belief in the Christmas Spirit and just how powerful that can be in the worst of situations.
We should explore what the Christmas Spirit is. It is a term which we often use but rarely understand.
The Christmas Spirit is an acknowledgment of the divinity of “the other”. We might be on different sides of a war but the creator of the universe took on human form in order for us to live in peace and harmony. In the eyes of the creator we are both equal and equally loved. Jesus came for me and Jesus came for you and the covenant which was born on that night was for each and every individual.
I’m not attempting to create converts to Christianity here but these are the facts of the tradition as it has played out over the centuries. Before Jesus, the religious relationship was between the deity and the nation. The deity blessed the nation when it did right and punished when it did wrong. A priesthood interceded between the nation and the deity.
Jesus, as his story is expressed through the Hellenic traditions of the First Century, makes a covenant with each and every individual. What are the consequences of a covenant with the individual? We have a Bill of Rights because of the Christian tradition. The Bill of Rights is a covenant between the state and the individual.
We might look at other countries and condemn their human rights record. The truth of the matter is that there is no such thing as human rights in a country or tradition which doesn’t make a covenant with the individual. Everything we hold to be true about human dignity and individual rights is a product of the Christmas Spirit.
This is the Christmas Spirit which enabled men who were trying to kill each other to lay down their weapons and sing Christmas carols together. Christmas Eve reminded them that the nation is secondary to the individual because of Jesus. “The Other” is more valuable in the eyes of the creator than is the nation.
Despair re-enters All is Calm as orders from the nations arrive which suppress and destroy the goodwill of the individuals. The truce came about five months into a war which lasted 51 months. The Christmas Spirit was almost strong enough to stop the war to end all wars almost before it began.
We might take a moment to criticize all the wrongs which have been committed in the name of Christianity. However, we throw away the concepts contained in the Christmas Spirit at our peril. Salvation resides within.