miércoles, 31 de diciembre de 2014

LA NIÑA DE LAS CAMPANILLAS

LA NIÑA DE LAS CAMPANILLAS





Érase una niñita impedida que no podía salir ni corretear con sus amiguitos que iban a visitarla de tarde en tarde porque se aburrían con ella, pues siempre estaba en su silla de ruedas.
Pero cosa extraña, la niñita, rubia y dulce, tenía aire feliz, especialmente cuando podía estar en su jardín.
Todo empezó un día en que lloraba a solas la amargura de su soledad. Una gentil campanilla azul le habló así:
-No llores, niña de los ojos azules. Nosotros te queremos y cantaremos para ti.
Y, ante el asombro de la pequeña, las campanillas azules, las rojas, las blancas, las amarillas, entonaron a coro una bonita canción y luego otra y otra...
A veces, las flores se turnaban para contarle fantásticas historias que distraían a la pobre solitaria. Y así un día y otro hasta que la niña pasó a una vida mejor.
No obstante, el misterio proseguía sobre su tumba. Siempre aparecía sembrada de campanillas blancas, rojas, azules y amarillas que nadie había puesto allí y que se mecían como en una eterna danza.

lunes, 29 de diciembre de 2014

HAPPINESS CHARGE FINALE: THE BEST

The best thing, IMO, about the Happiness Charge finale... is the return of all the International Cures!

Notice the Spanish Cure (rose in her hair), Cure Matador
The mascot next to Ohana and Orina is their partner, Alohalo.
In order, here they are:
 Orina, Alohalo, Matador, Southern Cross, Gonna & Pantaloni, Katiusha, unknown blue-haired Cure.

Now they are free, meaning HappinessCharge! Spain and many other lands are free from the shackles of the Empire!
As for HappinessCharge! Sweden, thanks for having resisted the invasion with that much strength, courage, and hope! What is your secret?
Happy New Year to all of that world as well!

domingo, 28 de diciembre de 2014

THE SNOW QUEEN: GERMAN 2014

I will give the account of the Fourth Story in this long-expected version pretty soon, to welcome the new year!

MORE POETRY I HAVE WRITTEN

As I watch you resting in bed,
I make a wish and draw a little closer,
intending not to wake you up.
This is for encouraging me to see the bright side of everything.
This is for absent friends.
This is for the warmth, the softness, that you irradiate
as soft as your puffy nightgown...
as soft as your closed eyelids...
as soft as the cascade of golden hair falling upon the pillow...
I have all the reasons to describe this picture in a poem.
For I want to take it and put it in a frame
before the years tear us apart.
To keep that picture, warm and full of twilight glow.
A likeness of the love that you give me
in spite of all the clashes we have had.
For I wish that you would never fade away.
Yet we cannot stay like this forever,
it's a painful truth,
and we know it well.
So let us stay close to each other
for as long as we are allowed.


Light, white and warm, incides in countless crystal glass prisms,
becoming little rainbows, little colourful rainbows, little rainbows of love.
So many little rainbows and so many bright colours
reaching my soft hands, both my shoulders, this short and tangled strawberry blond hair,
reflecting themselves in honey eyes full of merry tears,
filling me with acceptance of what there is,
ecstatic, clinging to the experience, forgetting everything else.

Prisms, rainbows, colourplay,
rare flowers of a light garden, flowers with petals in all bright colours,
bleeding hearts, geraniums, fuchsias, hyacinths, linden blossoms...
Fruits: persimmon, starfruit, autumn plums, winter lemons, passion fruit...
And the forbidden fruit, of course!
Flutterbies, ladybugs, dragons the size of my fingers,
officers' uniforms, ladies' parasols,
can be seen through the carousel of prisms.

"There was an old lady tied up in a basket,
17 times as high as the moon..."
In her left hand, she carried a broom
to sweep all the storm clouds away.
So that the loveliest pieces of art, those rarities,
would remain sublime as on the first day.

There is a waltz played on a little accordion somewhere beyond the limits of reason.
And it goes like this:
Eins-zwei-drei, eins-zwei-drei, eins-zwei-drei...
If you follow the melody without looking back, without stopping,
you'll reach a lone carousel
full of bright colours and of the waltz.
The steeds are dragons with dragonfly wings, rainbow cows, marshmallow serpents.
Eins-zwei-drei, eins-zwei-drei, eins-zwei-drei...
It's twilight, close to night, but it's warm,
countless colourful lights shine in the carousel.
Flowers of gunpowder fire in all the bright colours
fill up the vast dark garden of the night sky.
There is no storm or battle in this land,
and the bursts of rainbow flames are the closest thing to both lightning and gunfire there is.
Eins-zwei-drei, eins-zwei-drei, eins-zwei-drei...
Celtic crosses, linden blossoms, the dark side of the moon.
The scent of gunpowder, that of melissa and linden blossoms.
Fruits: persimmon, starfruit, autumn plums, winter lemons, passion fruit...
And the forbidden fruit, of course!
Somewhere a Celtic cross, the circle crossed, the cross encircled,
the circle crossed or the cross encircled?
The waltz of a carousel, that of a music box,
with two lovely young people embracing each other,
an officer in uniform and a lady in red waltzing on the top:
Eins-zwei-drei, eins-zwei-drei, eins-zwei-drei...
a carousel full of various littlepeople
like trolls and nixies and the like...
while, watching the carousel, thirteens of maidens dressed in twilight pink,
maidens spinning, spinning, spinning, spinning, spinning,
spinning cotton into moon-white silver,
spinning silver entwined with this poem,
clinging each to her sharp spindle,
humming the waltz as they spin the fluffy white cotton:
Eins-zwei-drei, eins-zwei-drei, eins-zwei-drei...
In the obsessive rhythm of the circle, the spiral, that which returns and returns.

I once had a dream in which I fell down off a cliff,
into the dark and cold which seemed to have no end.
For a second, I believed that I would die.
Then, suddenly, I awakened
to find myself almost fallen off the bed.
I was alive...
but my dream had died in exchange.

For a while, I felt that I had no escape,
but then...

As a child, I usually had a resting place
underneath some covers.
It was warm and soft and cozy
very cozy
and I usually took to exploring this underworld
where I was queen, star, whatever I could be on my own.
Whenever they were unkind,
I intrenched myself... NO! I sought solace
in those warm and cozy underworlds
looking for dragons (not to slay)
looking for beasts, for trolls, for strange friends
I was not afraid of the dark
for the night was soft and full of colours
and it all was so chrysalis-like
wrapping myself in that resting place...

(In my early teens, I started catching frogs alive, and then...)
Frogs go "frog, frog, frog"
They only know the name of their species.
How funny!
Green, with bright amber eyes.
In spring, the ponds are full of them
and it is not rare to hear a little male serenading his Juliet:
"Frog, frog, frog, frog, frog, frog, frog".
In those days, I took a plastic cup and went down to the ponds.
And then I knelt by the waters, cool and mirror-like,
and tried to catch one with the cup as a trap.
So, after at least twenty minutes, it paid off.
Now frogs swallow their prey whole
(what should the poor bugs think about it?)
This is why, in summer, a frog that has had fireflies glows in the dark.
But back to the story.
So I have a frog in a cup, which I carefully drain, sparing the frog alone.
I put the young male, green and cool, in my pocket, 
drain the cup in the pond, and pour myself an Aquarius
(this is for being born under the sign of the cupbearer)
and pop the frog in for liquid courage.
(PAUSE)
And then, quite calmly, I drink the frog,
sending this suitor into a death trap
which is, nevertheless, warm, dark, cozy.
This fate has been met by four or five marsh frogs
and a goldfish.

Not long ago, I wrote a poem
which was a parody of Snoilsky's Lützen.
In that poem, I rewrote the lyrics
not to deal with an epic battle,
but to deal with some young people drinking in a pub after class.
The parody poem was written in Swedish
and it stayed true to its source.

A hypertext is a text which derives from an earlier text, or hypotext.
Many of my works are based upon such hypertextuality:
The Countess of Toggenburg is a hypertext of Othello,
and so are Die Upon a Kiss
and the play in Winter Roses.
A less serious hypertext of Othello
is a parody I wrote in my teens,
"The Travesty of Othello".
In which I make allusions to shot glasses, Monty Python, and the Lewinsky scandal.
Already the title itself is hypertextual,
as well as a sharp pun
on "tragedy" and "travesty".
I wrote it as a style exercise
apart from the whole canon of István & Réna
(which included a short story, a play, poems, a graphic short story,
and, as a coda, the original short story told from different POVs, à la Rashomon).


viernes, 26 de diciembre de 2014

FREE WILL... A CURSE?

So I lived as the only child of a divorced mother... and I was terrified of losing her. It was one of my worst nightmares.
In those days, I saw this live-action film, Fly Away Home. The opening credits of this film still leave a profound impression in me. For the heroine, Amy, a middle-class tween like me living in our days, lost her young and beautiful mother, whose only child she was.
And NO, the recording artist Aliane Alden was not killed by disease (whether a heart condition, consumption, fevers, or whichever pathogen it may be). She died in a flash of light, while driving recklessly... and talking on the phone.
while a distracted Aliane spoke on her cellular phone... the mother died.
I was obviously terrified. I zapped and intrenched myself in my room.
Thus, I will NEVER drive passenger with an adult who is speaking on a phone (neither with an intoxicated one).
The death of Aliane Alden is not only "the tragic death of the heroine's mother". It seems to include a cautionary message for adults as well: "Do NOT drive on the phone, OR ELSE you will die and your child will be left to her fate in a hostile environment without your love and guidance."
As graphic as it is compelling, isn't it?
It sounds like one of those Victorian cautionary tales. Character arcs which end with a gruesome end (most usually, death) for a wrongdoer.
Hereby follows a list of such character arcs:

FATAL

  • Peter, from the Crying Wolf type of folktales: Do NOT cry wolf too often, OR ELSE the others will leave you on your own when the real big bad wolf appears. And you will be eaten alive.
  • Red Riding Hood, in some versions of the story: Do NOT consort with big bad wolves, OR ELSE you will be eaten alive.
  • Frey (Norse myth): Do NOT give your only sword away to your prospective in-laws to get the girl you love, OR ELSE you will be killed in the battle of the End of Times, run through with the very sword you had given away (since you will be disarmed, you will be a particularly challenging target).
  • Ajax (Trojan Wars): Do NOT go mad with anger if another person has received the honours you wanted for yourself, OR ELSE you will butcher a whole flock of sheep thinking your rival is among them, then regret having killed so many innocents and, ultimately, stab yourself.
  • Icarus: Do NOT fly too close to the sun, OR ELSE you will fall from the sky and drown.
  • Niobe: Do NOT insult Apollo and Artemis by saying you have many children more, OR ELSE the twin gods will shoot all of your children dead, and your darling husband too, and you will be turned into stone.
  • Erysichthon: Do NOT cut down any sacred trees, OR ELSE you'll be punished with insatiable hunger, until you finally devour yourself.
  • Onan: Do NOT do it with yourself following a ghost marriage to avoid that the children you sire will be considered your nephews, OR ELSE God will strike you down.
  • Judas Iscariot: Do NOT turn a good friend who happens to be persecuted to the authorities for cashing in the reward, OR ELSE you will wind up regretting what you have done and hang yourself.
  • Hamlet: Do NOT try to avenge the death of your birth father and expose your stepfather as the usurper who killed him, OR ELSE you will get a poisoned rapier run through you (and many of your loved ones will die as well).
  • Lord and Lady Macbeth (both of them): Do NOT become regicidal usurpers, OR ELSE, after you've been enough weakened by endless remorse, the rightful heir will return and have you killed.
  • Othello: Do NOT label your partner as intolerably unfaithful (even though your right hand says she is), OR ELSE you will kill her, then regret it deeply and commit suicide.
  • Iago: Do NOT resent the fact that another person has got the honours you wanted for yourself. IF YOU do, do NOT plot against your rival, OR ELSE you'll have bystanders dragged into your plot and killed... and you will be executed.
  • Desdemona: Do NOT try to intercede for a friend's sake TOO passionately, OR ELSE your husband may believe you are unfaithful with said friend and strangle you in bed.
  • Vladimir Lensky (from Eugene Onegin): Do NOT label your partner as intolerably unfaithful, OR ELSE you will be shot through the heart in a duel to which you had challenged your best friend and alleged rival.
  • Maria (from Esaias Tegnér's Axel): Do NOT grow impatient for your military lover to return. IF YOU do, do NOT cross-dress and join the army of your land if it happens to be your lover's nation's enemy. OR ELSE, you'll fall on a battlefield, shot by an enemy officer who turns out to be your lover.
  • Bentley Drummle (Great Expectations) Do NOT be arrogant or abusive towards your partner, OR ELSE you will fall off your high horse (literally).
  • Paulinchen (Struwwelpeter): Do NOT play with fire, OR ELSE you will burn to ashes.
  • Suppenkaspar (Struwwelpeter): Do NOT refuse to eat at all, OR ELSE you will starve yourself to death.
  • Private Snafu (Spies): Do NOT get drunk, OR ELSE you will slip a secret to a sexy enemy spy and your ship will be sunk by the enemy. And worse, you'll end up in Hell...
  • Marvolo Gaunt (Rowling's Potterverse): Do NOT abuse your daughter in any way. OR ELSE, she will wind up a heartbroken and jilted "fallen woman", who'll die after birthing a child who will get bullied into the magical terrorist of the millennium. So you will die of old age, but terribly tormented.
  • Aliane Alden (Fly Away Home): Do NOT drive on the phone, OR ELSE you will die and your child will be left to her fate in a hostile environment without your love and guidance.
  • Hadnagy István (my own version of Ha majd a nyarunknak vége): Do NOT expose yourself too much on the battlefield, OR ELSE you will get shot in the chest and have a punctured lung. Once recovering from your wounds, do NOT return immediately to the battlefield, OR ELSE you will die of exhaustion.

A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE has so many cautionary character arcs, many of them tied to the Lannisters, that it counts as one of the most anvilicious 'verses of them all:

  • Rhaegar Targaryen: Do NOT elope with a girl who is already betrothed, OR ELSE her fiancé will start a war and break your chest on the battlefield.
  • Robert Baratheon: Do NOT start a war if your fiancée runs off with someone else, OR ELSE, no matter if you've killed your rival, you will have lost your beloved to childbirth, and you will be forced to accept an unhappy marriage of convenience, become a cuckold and an alcoholic, and finally get killed by a wild pig.
  • Eddard "Ned" Stark: Do NOT do research on the love life of the royal family, OR ELSE you will lose your head (literally). And your widow and fatherless children will be in dire straits.
  • Oberyn Martell: Do NOT brood over the death of your dear little sister so much that you would challenge the one who killed her to a duel, OR ELSE he will break your head apart.
  • Robb Stark: Do NOT break the promise of your life by rejecting your betrothed in that marriage of convenience to marry a girl you actually love, OR ELSE you will get stabbed in the back and lose your head.
  • Renly Baratheon: Do NOT underestimate your less popular brother and/or another religion, OR ELSE you will get stabbed in the back (by a dementor, no less).
  • Lysa Baelish: Do NOT be jealous of the love your second husband feels for your niece, OR ELSE you will be defenestrated.

THE LANNISTER CLAN'S FATAL MISTAKES DESERVE A SEPARATE ENTRY. FOR THREE GENERATIONS, LANNISTERS HAVE MADE ERRORS THAT SHOOK WESTEROS.

  • Tywin Lannister: Do NOT attempt to live your children's lives, having your daughter marry someone she does not love, or blaming the youngest, that imp, for your lady wife's death in childbed... OR ELSE, your twin children will become lovers, the imp will call you out, your eldest grandson will be a bastard in both senses of the word, and you will be shot by your own sons (the imp, in particular) with a crossbow bolt to the solar plexus.
  • Cersei Lannister: Do NOT cheat on your soused spouse with your more attractive twin brother, OR ELSE you will plunge down into alcoholism yourself to regret having had a spoiled brat drunk on power, who will abuse both his fiancées and get tragically poisoned at his wedding feast, the event of your lifetime.
  • Joffrey "Baratheon", né Lannister: Do NOT pick on any girls, imps, direwolves, or anyone who looks helpless (whether human or animal). Do NOT abuse any of them above. OR ELSE you will die young and painfully, poisoned at your own wedding feast.


IN REAL LIFE, SOME PEOPLE HAVE ALSO CROSSED NOTEWORTHY LIMITS, FOR INSTANCE:

  • Marie Antoinette of Habsburg: Do NOT live at the expenses of the common people, OR ELSE you will lose your head after your rebellious subjects have beheaded your husband and locked you away in a tower, leaving your children orphaned and threatened by the new regime.
  • Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden: Do NOT outride your unit on the battlefield, OR ELSE the enemy, seeing you on your own, will shoot you more than once in the chest and back.
  • Albrecht von Wallenstein: Do NOT turn against your liege lord and try to take his crown, OR ELSE he will have you stabbed to the heart with a five-foot pike.
  • Gustavus III of Sweden: Do NOT deprive the nobility of its privileges, OR ELSE you will be shot in the back during a masked ball.
  • Adolf Hitler: Do NOT carry out genocide of minorities coupled with mass invasion and attempted land war in Russia, OR ELSE you will have to shoot yourself so that the invading army does not take you alive.


NON-FATAL, but nevertheless PAINFUL examples

  • Arachne: Do NOT challenge Athena to a needlework contest. IF YOU do, do NOT offend her by depicting her father Zeus as a pervert. OR ELSE, you'll be changed into a spider.
  • Narcissus: Do NOT be cold to all others, OR ELSE you will wind up passionately falling for your own reflection, starving to death, and becoming a flower.
  • Orpheus: Do NOT descend to the underworld to retrieve your late partner, OR ELSE you will lose her anyway.
  • Karen (The Red Shoes): Do NOT leave your ailing mother to attend a society event, OR ELSE you will need to have your feet cut off to stop dancing until death.
  • Ingrid (The Maid who Trod on the Loaf of Bread): Do NOT use your journey bread as a stepping stone to cross a swamp without soiling your uniform, OR ELSE you will be plunged into the underworld and paralyzed in a niche full of disgusting herps and bugs.
  • Konrad the Thumbsucker (Struwwelpeter): Do NOT suck your thumbs, OR ELSE you will have both of them severed.
  • Cassio (in Othello): Do NOT get drunk on duty (no matter how much they try to ply you), OR ELSE you will have to ask your lord's wife to intercede for your sake, which will arouse his jealousy, and you will be nearly killed but survive... yet you will have to leave the army for having had a leg cut off.
  • Theon Greyjoy: Do NOT betray your loving adoptive family to live up to your estranged birth family's expectations, OR ELSE you will have countless loved ones killed, and then become the eunuch sex slave of a ruthless sadist. Which is neither easy nor pleasant.
  • Jaime Lannister: Do NOT be arrogant, OR ELSE they will cut off your right hand. (At least, you'll have to learn to fight with the left one).
  • Kate and Peter McCallister (Home Alone): Do NOT use an alarm clock that is plugged into a socket, OR ELSE, a late night power outage or power loss may reset the alarm clock and cause you to oversleep and then, while hurrying to catch the plane, forget your youngest, favourite child at home.
IN GENERAL
  • Despots, tyrants, and the like
  • Usurpers
  • Terrorists
  • Gold diggers (female status seekers)
  • False brides
  • Traitors
  • Impostors
  • Chessmasters who plot against others
  • Arrogant people
TEND TO END UP BADLY (AT LEAST IN FAIRYTALE AND HOLLYWOOD)

Long story short, there are many stories about people who kill themselves, lose loved ones, or wind up with some other kind of trauma due to the decisions they have made. It is true that the saddest words of them all are "It could have been".
Have I told you the one where my Philo teacher...?
OK, time to turn to one of my age-old philosophical obsessions: THAT WITH FREE WILL AND HUMAN WEAKNESS.

The problem of pain was and is a riddle without an answer.
Grief. Disease. Oppression. Pain. Despair. Things that we humans can not accept at all.

"If all the wicked people on Earth were black, and all the good people were white, what colour would you be?"
Sounds like an interesting rhetorical question...
Well, there is an anecdote about a little girl who was asked such a puzzling question, and she innocently replied: "Half black, half white!"
Fifty-fifty. That's actually what every person endowed with a free will (even the "infallible" Pope of the Catholic Church) would be.


Gottfried von Leibniz, a Baroque-era courtier, mathematician, and philosopher, clearly told physical evil (pain, death, grief, the blues, violent deaths caused by accidents and natural disaster), founded on the laws of nature; from moral evil (oppression, warfare, persecution, murders...), caused by humans' wrong use of their free will.

As a teenager, I wondered why we humans are able to do wrong: to untie knots of love,  to declare wars, and to persecute outsiders. I asked my wise and well-spoken Philosophy teacher (who currently resides in Stockholm, and whose wife I met in the Swedish capital a month ago) the question. He replied: "Because we wouldn't be free if we could only do good."
Free will is both a blessing and a curse. If we are free to do wrong, we can do wrong. But if we only can do good, we are not free. Now, what is good actually? There lies the quid of the question!
Let's say, like Gatty's lovers of pleasure, that earthly enjoyment/happiness/joy/pleasure is good/right, while disturbance/discord/warfare is bad/wrong. The snag is: we humans are too self-centered and stubborn for "the magic spot where discord had never entered" to be a reality.
Moving from economy to life in general, we find the fallacy of humans striving for earthly enjoyment while not caring for fellow humans (0r other species). A striking Swedish proverb reads: "One's person's bread is another's death".
 A sad but true paradox. 

The sinner is here called Pandora: "Everygift", since the gods have circled aroud her like the fairies around newborn Sleeping Beauty and given her each a gift or two: a pleasant appearance, a good mood, a taste for the arts and music... Hermes/Mercury, the trickster on Olympus, called Quicksilver by Hawthorne ("mercury" is "Quecksilber" in German and "kvicksilver" in Swedish), gives her both the box, with the interdiction to open it, and the gift of curiosity: thirst for knowledge and/or for pleasure. He has arranged for her not to fear the unknown, so that the box can be opened. She's got both the lock and the key (like, in Genesis, the Eternal Father placed the forbidden fruit -and presumably the serpent as well- within Eve's reach): it is a test of character. A tricked test whose only outcome was, perhaps, for the rule to be broken: it was expected of Eve to taste the forbidden fruit, of Pandora to open the forbidden box. Which makes this kind of stories theodicies: what kind of deity would allow evil (physical and moral) to exist, keep it in one place, and then entrust that place to someone who, most surely, would let it all out?


In "The Chasm of Confusion", whose arc words are "Good and evil share the same face", a few more quotes resound with relevance:

 But... why? A Naacal just can't be evil!
We Naacals are nothing but humans, with their strengths and with their weaknesses.

The cold is necessary. The warmth of springtime is less pleasant than the fact that it comes after a harsh winter. Light cannot exist if there isn't any darkness. Life is precious just because death is inevitable. Everything has its opposite. These are the positive and negative forces of the universe, endlessly balancing each other.



Now comes the tricky part: We can do wrong because we are free... but why are we more inclined to do wrong than right? Is it due to the forbidden fruit and the sin of Eve, as the Church says? I doubt so, leaving the nature vs. nurture debate in place of the religious explanation.
 Is it nurture, due to the individualism prevalent in our culture since the Age of Empires? Or is it because we humans are self-centered in general? 
What's notable is that this weakness is not reserved to us smallfolk: the heroes of tragedy are royals, generals, nobles... even the Pope is a person, and even the gods of most cultures have their feuds and their love affairs.
So: Is it nurture, due to the individualism prevalent in our culture since the Age of Empires? Or is it because we humans are self-centered in general? Or a combination of both factors?
When we make decisions, why do we often make them on impulse, without nearly thinking? Why do we decide to drink on guard duty, talk on the phone and drive, skip our homework, call the kettle black, throw rocks at our pets, become gold-diggers, feel jealous, disappointed, betrayed... even betray others?
Aren't cautionary tales and tragedies overrated nowadays? Aren't they useless when it comes to influencing behaviour?

jueves, 25 de diciembre de 2014

THIS YEAR'S CHRISTMAS GREETING


This winter, I'll let pictures speak louder than words.

Only one little detail to translate. "GOD JUL" is Swedish for "Merry Christmas" or "Season's Greetings".










FORGET ME NOT: CHAPTER V (FINALE)


NO-ME-OLVIDES
Por Sandra Dermark



Un fic de Vocaloid basado en la novela homónima de Putlitz.

5. LA FLOR DEL RECUERDO.

Desde su balcón, la joven me sostenía en su diestra. Se puso la mano izquierda sobre la frente a modo de visera para otear el horizonte cara al sol. Yo seguía su mirar. Un jinete galopaba por el valle. ¿Sería él? Lo era...
Mientras él desaparecía para ella, la joven señorita entró de nuevo. Parecía que estuviera reprimiendo sus lágrimas para observarle lo más posible. Ahora estaba en su habitación y las lágrimas le brotaron a raudales. Entonces sonrió llorando, me besó con impulso y se dijo, nerviosa:
-¿Será verdad? ¿Será posible? ¡Me quiere!
Sus pasos se aceleraron y sus ojos brillaban de euforia mientras corría por la habitación. Se plantó frente al espejo de la consola y miró de hito en hito a su reflejo, como si el afecto de aquel joven hiciera más valiosos sus rasgos para ella. Luego observó con sorpresa que aún tenía lágrimas en los ojos. Se dijo:
- ¡Lágrimas! ¡Y nunca en mi vida he sido tan feliz! -se rió y se secó con un pañuelo, pero cada vez las gotas cristalinas volvían a discurrir por sus mejillas.
Al final, la joven recobró la calma para luego, haciendo caso de la voz de la conciencia, decirse:
-¡Mi institutriz nunca lo aprobaría, y nunca podré decírselo!
Palideció como si toda la sangre de sus venas se hubiera helado y sus ojos fueran dos cuentas de cristal verde. Oyó pasos en el pasillo y, asustada, se sentó frente al clavecín y llevó los dedos a las teclas. Me caí de su mano, con mi flor, sobre una tecla blanca.
Se abrió la puerta y entró una mujer alta y de porte distinguido, con la pajiza cabellera recogida en un moño. Su cabeza erguida, su inquisitiva mirada, su cerrada expresión... todo denotaba inflexibilidad. En sus patas de gallo, la experiencia había escrito valiosas lecciones.
Miré angustiada cómo saludaba a su protegida. Los ojos de la institutriz se habían acostumbrado a no llorar. Su expresión permaneció inmutable, mientras observaba los rasgos de la jovencita como si leyera un libro abierto.
-Margareta, estás llorando. ¡Se ha marchado y le quieres! -La pobrecita no se atrevía a desvelar su secreto, pero ¿podría negarlo? Así que respondió con lágrimas. La institutriz se dirigió a Margareta con una voz más dulce:
-Ésta puede ser la primera dura prueba de tu vida. Si quieres sobrevivir, debes de luchar contra tu corazón. ¡Le has de olvidar!
El corazón de la joven estaba dividido:
-¿Olvidarle yo? ¡Nunca jamás!
-Margareta, ¿qué adversidad no se debe superar? ¿Qué no se ha de olvidar?
La chica peliverde negó con la cabeza: el sentimiento que había despertado en ella era demasiado poderoso como para ser socavado por cuarenta largos años de experiencia.
-¿Te lo dijo antes de irse, Margareta?
-No me dijo nada, pero lo supe al ver su última mirada, al sentir la presión de su mano, al entregarme éstas flores.- respondió mostrando sus nomeolvides.
-¡Nomeolvides! -la institutriz tomó asiento en el sillón con la mirada fija en las flores... pero su expresión se relajó, algo se conmovía dentro de su pecho, sus pensamientos la llevaron hacia un pasado distante. Margareta la miraba fijamente, en parte sorprendida y en parte asustada. Nunca la había visto así, y esperaba que dictara sentencia.
-Margareta, ve al cajón de la consola y tráeme el pequeño guardapelo plateado. -Ella obedeció para ver a su interlocutora abrir el colgante y revelar en su interior una florecilla de nomeolvides marchita.
-¡Le quieres... y eres feliz!- y las lágrimas brotaron de sus ojos y cayeron sobre la flor marchita de su mano.
La joven nunca había visto a su institutriz llorar. Era como si se hubiera derretido la barrera de hielo que le retenía el corazón. Se postró y, sorprendida al descubrir el secreto, exclamó:
-¡Has amado, Linnéa! ¡Has amado tú también!
Y Linnéa la abrazó y la besó:
-Él te tendrá, Margareta. ¡Tú serás feliz!
Margareta abrazó a su institutriz y caí de su mano. Al final, Linnéa cerró el guardapelo y lo dejó de nuevo en su lugar. Yo me marchité, olvidada, en el suelo.

Porque el amor no quiere recordatorios.

miércoles, 24 de diciembre de 2014

STILLE NACHT / SILENT NIGHT



Let the powerful of the whole world know that "Peace on Earth" is no mere Christmas ornament to store away once the winter holidays are gone, but a statement that should be remembered throughout every year...
Here's a young Briton's letter from the war front, in which he talks about what the winter truce of a century ago was like:


Christmas Day, 1914

My dear sister Janet,
It is 2:00 in the morning and most of our men are asleep in their dugouts—yet I could not sleep myself before writing to you of the wonderful events of Christmas Eve. In truth, what happened seems almost like a fairy tale, and if I hadn’t been through it myself, I would scarce believe it. Just imagine: While you and the family sang carols before the fire there in London, I did the same with enemy soldiers here on the battlefields of France!
As I wrote before, there has been little serious fighting of late. The first battles of the war left so many dead that both sides have held back until replacements could come from home. So, we have mostly stayed in our trenches and waited.
But what a terrible waiting it has been! Knowing that any moment an artillery shell might land and explode beside us in the trench, killing or maiming several men. And in daylight not daring to lift our heads above ground, for fear of a sniper’s bullet.
And the rain—it has fallen almost daily. Of course, it collects right in our trenches, where we must bail it out with pots and pans. And with the rain has come mud—a good foot or more deep. It splatters and cakes everything, and constantly sucks at our boots. One new recruit got his feet stuck in it, and then his hands too when he tried to get out—just like in that American story of the tar baby!
Through all this, we couldn’t help feeling curious about the German soldiers across the way. After all, they faced the same dangers we did, and slogged about in the same muck. What’s more, their first trench was only fifty yards from ours. Between us lay No Man’s Land, bordered on both sides by barbed wire—yet they were close enough we sometimes heard their voices.
Of course, we hated them when they killed our friends. But other times, we joked about them and almost felt we had something in common. And now it seems they felt the same.
Just yesterday morning—Christmas Eve Day—we had our first good freeze. Cold as we were, we welcomed it, because at least the mud froze solid. Everything was tinged white with frost, while a bright sun shone over all. Perfect Christmas weather.
During the day, there was little shelling or rifle fire from either side. And as darkness fell on our Christmas Eve, the shooting stopped entirely. Our first complete silence in months! We hoped it might promise a peaceful holiday, but we didn’t count on it. We’d been told the Germans might attack and try to catch us off guard.
I went to the dugout to rest, and lying on my cot, I must have drifted asleep. All at once my friend John was shaking me awake, saying, “Come and see! See what the Germans are doing!” I grabbed my rifle, stumbled out into the trench, and stuck my head cautiously above the sandbags.
I never hope to see a stranger and more lovely sight. Clusters of tiny lights were shining all along the German line, left and right as far as the eye could see.
“What is it?” I asked in bewilderment, and John answered, “Christmas trees!”
And so it was. The Germans had placed Christmas trees in front of their trenches, lit by candle or lantern like beacons of good will.
And then we heard their voices raised in song.
Stille nacht, heilige nacht . . .
This carol may not yet be familiar to us in Britain, but John knew it and translated: “Silent night, holy night.” I’ve never heard one lovelier—or more meaningful, in that quiet, clear night, its dark softened by a first-quarter moon.
When the song finished, the men in our trenches applauded. Yes, British soldiers applauding Germans! Then one of our own men started singing, and we all joined in.
The first Nowell, the angel did say . . .
In truth, we sounded not nearly as good as the Germans, with their fine harmonies. But they responded with enthusiastic applause of their own and then began another.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum . . .
Then we replied.
O come all ye faithful . . .
But this time they joined in, singing the words in Latin.
Adeste fideles . . .
British and German harmonizing across No Man’s Land! I would have thought nothing could be more amazing—but what came next was more so.
“English, come over!” we heard one of them shout. “You no shoot, we no shoot.”
There in the trenches, we looked at each other in bewilderment. Then one of us shouted jokingly, “You come over here.”
To our astonishment, we saw two figures rise from the trench, climb over their barbed wire, and advance unprotected across No Man’s Land. One of them called, “Send officer to talk.”
I saw one of our men lift his rifle to the ready, and no doubt others did the same—but our captain called out, “Hold your fire.” Then he climbed out and went to meet the Germans halfway. We heard them talking, and a few minutes later, the captain came back with a German cigar in his mouth!
“We’ve agreed there will be no shooting before midnight tomorrow,” he announced. “But sentries are to remain on duty, and the rest of you, stay alert.”
Across the way, we could make out groups of two or three men starting out of trenches and coming toward us. Then some of us were climbing out too, and in minutes more, there we were in No Man’s Land, over a hundred soldiers and officers of each side, shaking hands with men we’d been trying to kill just hours earlier!
Before long a bonfire was built, and around it we mingled—British khaki and German grey. I must say, the Germans were the better dressed, with fresh uniforms for the holiday.
Only a couple of our men knew German, but more of the Germans knew English. I asked one of them why that was.
“Because many have worked in England!” he said. “Before all this, I was a waiter at the Hotel Cecil. Perhaps I waited on your table!”
“Perhaps you did!” I said, laughing.
He told me he had a girlfriend in London and that the war had interrupted their plans for marriage. I said, “Don’t worry. We’ll have you beat by Easter, then you can come back and marry the girl.”
He laughed at that. Then he asked if I’d send her a postcard he’d give me later, and I promised I would.
Another German had been a porter at Victoria Station. He showed me a picture of his family back in Munich. His eldest sister was so lovely, I told him I should like to meet her someday. He beamed and said he would like that very much and gave me his family’s address.
Even those who could not converse could still exchange gifts—our cigarettes for their cigars, our tea for their coffee, our corned beef for their sausage. Badges and buttons from uniforms changed owners, and one of our lads walked off with the infamous spiked helmet! I myself traded a jackknife for a leather equipment belt—a fine souvenir to show when I get home.
Newspapers too changed hands, and the Germans howled with laughter at ours. They assured us that France was finished and Russia nearly beaten too. We told them that was nonsense, and one of them said, “Well, you believe your newspapers and we’ll believe ours.”
Clearly they are lied to—yet after meeting these men, I wonder how truthful our own newspapers have been. These are not the “savage barbarians” we’ve read so much about. They are men with homes and families, hopes and fears, principles and, yes, love of country. In other words, men like ourselves. Why are we led to believe otherwise?
As it grew late, a few more songs were traded around the fire, and then all joined in for—I am not lying to you—“Auld Lang Syne.” Then we parted with promises to meet again tomorrow, and even some talk of a football match.
I was just starting back to the trenches when an older German clutched my arm. “My God,” he said, “why cannot we have peace and all go home?”
I told him gently, “That you must ask your emperor.”
He looked at me then, searchingly. “Perhaps, my friend. But also we must ask our hearts.”
And so, dear sister, tell me, has there ever been such a Christmas Eve in all history? And what does it all mean, this impossible befriending of enemies?
For the fighting here, of course, it means regrettably little. Decent fellows those soldiers may be, but they follow orders and we do the same. Besides, we are here to stop their army and send it home, and never could we shirk that duty.
Still, one cannot help imagine what would happen if the spirit shown here were caught by the nations of the world. Of course, disputes must always arise. But what if our leaders were to offer well wishes in place of warnings? Songs in place of slurs? Presents in place of reprisals? Would not all war end at once?
All nations say they want peace. Yet on this Christmas morning, I wonder if we want it quite enough.
Your loving brother,
Tom

Tips for Telling

This piece takes the form of a letter written by a soldier from the battlefield. It is not so much a tale for telling as a theatrical monologue, but it should still fit in the context of a storytelling performance.
As a stage convention, you could carry an actual written letter and pretend you’re just finishing writing it, then read it over to yourself and the audience. That way, you can keep the text with you for reference instead of entirely memorizing it. Of course, you should make sure to look up at the audience much of the time, in the manner of reader’s theater. If you like, you can “sign” the letter after reading it.
Remember that you’re portraying the writer of the letter, and only indirectly the people and actions described in it—so don’t get carried away with characterizations or mime. British and maybe German accents would be nice but not necessary. And it would be good to sing the lines from the songs.
Depending on your audience and event, you might want to finish with a group singing of “Silent Night.”



The Christmas Truce of 1914 is one of the most extraordinary incidents not only of World War I but of all military history. Providing inspiration for songs, books, plays, and movies, it has endured as an archetypal image of peace.
Starting in some places on Christmas Eve and in others on Christmas Day, the truce covered as much as two-thirds of the British-German front, with French and Belgians involved as well. Thousands of soldiers took part. In most places, it lasted at least through Boxing Day (December 26), and in some, through mid-January. Perhaps most remarkably, it grew out of no single initiative but sprang up in each place spontaneously and independently.
Unofficial and spotty as the truce was, there have been those convinced it never happened—that the whole thing was made up. Others have believed it happened but that the news was suppressed. Neither is true. Though little was publicly reported in Germany, the truce made headlines for weeks in British newspapers, with published letters and photos from soldiers at the front. In a single issue, the latest inflammatory rumor of German atrocities might share space with a photo of British and German soldiers crowded together, their caps and helmets exchanged, smiling for the camera.
Historians, on the other hand, have not shown much interest in an unofficial outbreak of peace. The first comprehensive look at the event came only with the 1981 BBC documentary Peace in No Man’s Land, by Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton, and their 1984 companion book, Christmas Truce (Secker & Warburg, London). The book featured a large number of firsthand accounts from letters and diaries. Nearly everything described in my fictional letter is drawn from these accounts—though I have heightened the drama somewhat by selecting, arranging, and compressing.
In my letter, I’ve tried to counteract two popular misconceptions of the truce. One is that only common soldiers took part in it, while officers opposed it. (Actually, few officers opposed it, and many took part.) The other is that neither side wished to return to fighting. (Most soldiers, especially British, French, and Belgian, remained determined to fight and win.)
Sadly, I also had to omit the Christmas Day games of football that are often falsely associated with the truce. The truth is that the terrain of No Man’s Land ruled out formal games—though certainly some soldiers kicked around balls and makeshift substitutes.
Another false idea about the truce was held even by most soldiers who were there: that it was unique in history. Though the Christmas Truce is the foremost incident of its kind, informal truces were a long-standing military tradition. During the American Civil War, for instance, Rebels and Yankees traded tobacco, coffee, and newspapers, fished peaceably on opposite sides of a stream, and even gathered blackberries together. Some degree of fellow feeling had always been common among soldiers sent to battle.
Of course, all that has changed in modern times. Today, combatants kill at great distances, often with the push of a button and a sighting on a computer screen. Even where soldiers come face to face, their languages and cultures are often so divergent as to make friendly communication unlikely.
No, we should not expect to see another Christmas Truce. Yet still what happened on that Christmas of 1914 may inspire the peacemakers of today—for, now as always, the best time to make peace is long before the armies go to war.



SOLDIER 1:  (to audience) Christmas Day, 1914. Dear mother,
SOLDIER 4:  (to audience) My darling Meg,
SOLDIER 2:  (to audience) My good friend Charles,
SOLDIER 3:  (to audience) My dear sister Janet,
SOLDIER 1:  It is 2:00 in the morning and most of our men are asleep in their dugouts.
SOLDIER 4:  Yet I could not sleep myself before writing to you of the wonderful events of Christmas Eve.
SOLDIER 2:  In truth, what happened seems almost like a fairy tale, and if I hadn’t been through it myself, I would scarce believe it.
SOLDIER 3:  Just imagine: While you and the family sang carols before the fire there in London, I did the same with enemy soldiers here on the battlefields of France!
SOLDIER 1:  As I wrote before, there has been little serious fighting of late. The first battles of the war left so many dead that both sides have held back until replacements could come from home. So, we have mostly stayed in our trenches and waited.
SOLDIER 4:  But what a terrible waiting it has been! Knowing that any moment an artillery shell might land and explode beside us in the trench, killing or maiming several men. And in daylight not daring to lift our heads above ground, for fear of a sniper’s bullet.
SOLDIER 2:  And the rain—it has fallen almost daily. Of course, it collects right in our trenches, where we must bail it out with pots and pans. And with the rain has come mud—a good foot or more deep.
SOLDIER 3:  It splatters and cakes everything, and constantly sucks at our boots. One new recruit got his feet stuck in it, and then his hands too when he tried to get out—just like in that American story of the tar baby!
SOLDIER 1:  Through all this, we couldn’t help feeling curious about the German soldiers across the way. After all, they faced the same dangers we did, and slogged about in the same muck.
SOLDIER 4:  What’s more, their first trench was only fifty yards from ours. Between us lay No Man’s Land, bordered on both sides by barbed wire—yet they were close enough we sometimes heard their voices.
SOLDIER 2:  Of course, we hated them whenever they killed our friends. But other times, we joked about them and almost felt we had something in common.
SOLDIER 3:  And now it seems they felt the same.
SOLDIER 1:  Just yesterday morning—Christmas Eve Day—we had our first good freeze. Cold as we were, we welcomed it, because at least the mud froze solid.
SOLDIER 4:  Everything was tinged white with frost, while a bright sun shone over all. Perfect Christmas weather.
SOLDIER 2:  During the day, there was little shelling or rifle fire from either side. And as darkness fell on our Christmas Eve, the shooting stopped entirely.
SOLDIER 3:  Our first complete silence in months! We hoped it might promise a peaceful holiday, but we didn’t count on it. We’d been told the Germans might attack and try to catch us off guard.
SOLDIER 1:  I went to the dugout to rest, and lying on my cot, I must have drifted asleep. All at once my friend was shaking me awake, saying, “Come and see! See what the Germans are doing!” I grabbed my rifle, stumbled out into the trench, and stuck my head cautiously above the sandbags.
SOLDIER 4:  I never hope to see a stranger and more lovely sight. Clusters of tiny lights were shining all along the German line, left and right as far as the eye could see.
SOLDIER 2:  “What is it?” I asked in bewilderment, and someone answered, “Christmas trees!”
SOLDIER 3:  And so it was. The Germans had placed Christmas trees in front of their trenches, lit by candle or lantern like beacons of good will.
SOLDIER 1:  And then we heard their voices raised in song. (singing) “Stille nacht, heilige nacht . . .”
SOLDIER 4:  This carol may not yet be familiar to us in Britain, but one soldier knew it and translated: “Silent night, holy night.” I’ve never heard one lovelier—or more meaningful, in that quiet, clear night, its dark softened by a first-quarter moon.
SOLDIER 2:  When the song finished, the men in our trenches applauded. Yes, British soldiers applauding Germans!
SOLDIER 3:  Then one of our own men started singing, and we all joined in. (singing)“The first Nowell, the angel did say . . .”
SOLDIER 1:  In truth, we sounded not nearly as good as the Germans, with their fine harmonies. But they responded with enthusiastic applause of their own and then began another. (singing) “O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum . . .”
SOLDIER 4:  Then we replied. (singing) “O come all ye faithful . . .”
SOLDIER 2:  But this time they joined in, singing the words in Latin. (singing) “Adeste fideles . . .”
SOLDIER 3:  British and German harmonizing across No Man’s Land! I would have thought nothing could be more amazing—but what came next was more so.
SOLDIER 1:  “English, come over!” we heard one of them shout. “You no shoot, we no shoot.”
SOLDIER 4:  There in the trenches, we looked at each other in bewilderment. Then one of us shouted jokingly, “You come over here.”
SOLDIER 2:  To our astonishment, we saw two figures rise from the trench, climb over their barbed wire, and advance unprotected across No Man’s Land.
SOLDIER 3:  One of them called, “Send officer to talk.”
SOLDIER 1:  I saw one of our men lift his rifle to the ready, and no doubt others did the same—but our captain called out, “Hold your fire.” Then he climbed out and went to meet the Germans halfway.
SOLDIER 4:  We heard them talking, and a few minutes later, the captain came back with a German cigar in his mouth! “We’ve agreed there will be no shooting before midnight tomorrow,” he announced. “But sentries are to remain on duty, and the rest of you, stay alert.”
SOLDIER 2:  Across the way, we could make out groups of two or three men starting out of trenches and coming toward us.
SOLDIER 3:  Then some of us were climbing out too, and in minutes more, there we were in No Man’s Land, over a hundred soldiers and officers of each side, shaking hands with men we’d been trying to kill just hours earlier!
SOLDIER 1:  Before long a bonfire was built, and around it we mingled—British khaki and German grey. I must say, the Germans were the better dressed, with fresh uniforms for the holiday.
SOLDIER 4:  Only a couple of our men knew German, but more of the Germans knew English. I asked one of them why that was.
“Because many have worked in England!” he said. “Before all this, I was a waiter at the Hotel Cecil. Perhaps I waited on your table!”
“Perhaps you did!” I said, laughing.
SOLDIER 2:  One German told me he had a girlfriend in London and that the war had interrupted their plans for marriage. I said, “Don’t worry. We’ll have you beat by Easter, then you can come back and marry the girl.”
He laughed at that. Then he asked if I’d send her a postcard he’d give me later, and I promised I would.
SOLDIER 3:  Another German had been a porter at Victoria Station. He showed me a picture of his family back in Munich. His eldest sister was so lovely, I told him I should like to meet her someday. He beamed and said he would like that very much and gave me his family’s address.
SOLDIER 1:  Even those who could not converse could still exchange gifts—our cigarettes for their cigars, our tea for their coffee, our corned beef for their sausage. Badges and buttons from uniforms changed owners, and one of our lads walked off with the infamous spiked helmet!
SOLDIER 4:  I myself traded a jackknife for a leather equipment belt—a fine souvenir to show when I get home.
SOLDIER 2:  Newspapers too changed hands, and the Germans howled with laughter at ours. They assured us that France was finished and Russia nearly beaten too.
SOLDIER 3:  We told them that was nonsense, and one of them said, “Well, you believe your newspapers and we’ll believe ours.”
SOLDIER 1:  Clearly they are lied to—yet after meeting these men, I wonder how truthful our own newspapers have been.
SOLDIER 4:  These are not the “savage barbarians” we’ve read so much about. They are men with homes and families, hopes and fears, principles and, yes, love of country.
SOLDIER 2:  In other words, men like ourselves.
SOLDIER 3:  Why are we led to believe otherwise?
SOLDIER 1:  As it grew late, a few more songs were traded around the fire, and then all joined in for—I am not lying to you—“Auld Lang Syne.”
SOLDIER 4:  Then we parted with promises to meet again tomorrow,
SOLDIER 2:  and even some talk of a football match.
SOLDIER 3:  I was just starting back to the trenches when an older German clutched my arm. “My God,” he said, “why cannot we have peace and all go home?”
I told him gently, “That you must ask your emperor.”
He looked at me then, searchingly. “Perhaps, my friend. But also we must ask our hearts.”
SOLDIER 1:  And so, dear mother,
SOLDIER 4:  dear wife,
SOLDIER 2:  dear friend,
SOLDIER 3:  dear sister,
SOLDIER 1:  tell me, has there ever been such a Christmas Eve in all history?
SOLDIER 4:  And what does it all mean, this impossible befriending of enemies?
SOLDIER 2:  For the fighting here, of course, it means regrettably little. Decent fellows those soldiers may be, but they follow orders and we do the same.
SOLDIER 3:  Besides, we are here to stop their army and send it home, and never could we shirk that duty.
SOLDIER 1:  Still, one cannot help imagine what would happen if the spirit shown here were caught by the nations of the world.
SOLDIER 4:  Of course, disputes must always arise.
SOLDIER 2:  But what if our leaders were to offer well wishes in place of warnings?
SOLDIER 3:  Songs in place of slurs?
SOLDIER 1:  Presents in place of reprisals?
SOLDIER 4:  Would not all war end at once?
SOLDIER 2:  All nations say they want peace.
SOLDIER 3:  Yet on this Christmas morning, I wonder if we want it quite enough.
SOLDIER 1:  Yours truly,
SOLDIER 4:  Yours always,
SOLDIER 2:  Sincerely,
SOLDIER 3:  With all my love,
SOLDIER 1:  John
SOLDIER 4:  Andrew
SOLDIER 2:  Philip
SOLDIER 3:  Tom



OLDIER 1:  (to audience) Christmas Day, 1914. Dear mother,
SOLDIER 4:  (to audience) My darling Meg,
SOLDIER 2:  (to audience) My good friend Charles,
SOLDIER 3:  (to audience) My dear sister Janet,
SOLDIER 1:  It is 2:00 in the morning and most of our men are asleep in their dugouts.
SOLDIER 4:  Yet I could not sleep myself before writing to you of the wonderful events of Christmas Eve.
SOLDIER 2:  In truth, what happened seems almost like a fairy tale, and if I hadn’t been through it myself, I would scarce believe it.
SOLDIER 3:  Just imagine: While you and the family sang carols before the fire there in London, I did the same with enemy soldiers here on the battlefields of France!
SOLDIER 1:  As I wrote before, there has been little serious fighting of late. The first battles of the war left so many dead that both sides have held back until replacements could come from home. So, we have mostly stayed in our trenches and waited.
SOLDIER 4:  But what a terrible waiting it has been! Knowing that any moment an artillery shell might land and explode beside us in the trench, killing or maiming several men. And in daylight not daring to lift our heads above ground, for fear of a sniper’s bullet.
SOLDIER 2:  And the rain—it has fallen almost daily. Of course, it collects right in our trenches, where we must bail it out with pots and pans. And with the rain has come mud—a good foot or more deep.
SOLDIER 3:  It splatters and cakes everything, and constantly sucks at our boots. One new recruit got his feet stuck in it, and then his hands too when he tried to get out—just like in that American story of the tar baby!
SOLDIER 1:  Through all this, we couldn’t help feeling curious about the German soldiers across the way. After all, they faced the same dangers we did, and slogged about in the same muck.
SOLDIER 4:  What’s more, their first trench was only fifty yards from ours. Between us lay No Man’s Land, bordered on both sides by barbed wire—yet they were close enough we sometimes heard their voices.
SOLDIER 2:  Of course, we hated them whenever they killed our friends. But other times, we joked about them and almost felt we had something in common.
SOLDIER 3:  And now it seems they felt the same.
SOLDIER 1:  Just yesterday morning—Christmas Eve Day—we had our first good freeze. Cold as we were, we welcomed it, because at least the mud froze solid.
SOLDIER 4:  Everything was tinged white with frost, while a bright sun shone over all. Perfect Christmas weather.
SOLDIER 2:  During the day, there was little shelling or rifle fire from either side. And as darkness fell on our Christmas Eve, the shooting stopped entirely.
SOLDIER 3:  Our first complete silence in months! We hoped it might promise a peaceful holiday, but we didn’t count on it. We’d been told the Germans might attack and try to catch us off guard.
SOLDIER 1:  I went to the dugout to rest, and lying on my cot, I must have drifted asleep. All at once my friend was shaking me awake, saying, “Come and see! See what the Germans are doing!” I grabbed my rifle, stumbled out into the trench, and stuck my head cautiously above the sandbags.
SOLDIER 4:  I never hope to see a stranger and more lovely sight. Clusters of tiny lights were shining all along the German line, left and right as far as the eye could see.
SOLDIER 2:  “What is it?” I asked in bewilderment, and someone answered, “Christmas trees!”
SOLDIER 3:  And so it was. The Germans had placed Christmas trees in front of their trenches, lit by candle or lantern like beacons of good will.
SOLDIER 1:  And then we heard their voices raised in song. (singing) “Stille nacht, heilige nacht . . .”
SOLDIER 4:  This carol may not yet be familiar to us in Britain, but one soldier knew it and translated: “Silent night, holy night.” I’ve never heard one lovelier—or more meaningful, in that quiet, clear night, its dark softened by a first-quarter moon.
SOLDIER 2:  When the song finished, the men in our trenches applauded. Yes, British soldiers applauding Germans!
SOLDIER 3:  Then one of our own men started singing, and we all joined in. (singing)“The first Nowell, the angel did say . . .”
SOLDIER 1:  In truth, we sounded not nearly as good as the Germans, with their fine harmonies. But they responded with enthusiastic applause of their own and then began another. (singing) “O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum . . .”
SOLDIER 4:  Then we replied. (singing) “O come all ye faithful . . .”
SOLDIER 2:  But this time they joined in, singing the words in Latin. (singing) “Adeste fideles . . .”
SOLDIER 3:  British and German harmonizing across No Man’s Land! I would have thought nothing could be more amazing—but what came next was more so.
SOLDIER 1:  “English, come over!” we heard one of them shout. “You no shoot, we no shoot.”
SOLDIER 4:  There in the trenches, we looked at each other in bewilderment. Then one of us shouted jokingly, “You come over here.”
SOLDIER 2:  To our astonishment, we saw two figures rise from the trench, climb over their barbed wire, and advance unprotected across No Man’s Land.
SOLDIER 3:  One of them called, “Send officer to talk.”
SOLDIER 1:  I saw one of our men lift his rifle to the ready, and no doubt others did the same—but our captain called out, “Hold your fire.” Then he climbed out and went to meet the Germans halfway.
SOLDIER 4:  We heard them talking, and a few minutes later, the captain came back with a German cigar in his mouth! “We’ve agreed there will be no shooting before midnight tomorrow,” he announced. “But sentries are to remain on duty, and the rest of you, stay alert.”
SOLDIER 2:  Across the way, we could make out groups of two or three men starting out of trenches and coming toward us.
SOLDIER 3:  Then some of us were climbing out too, and in minutes more, there we were in No Man’s Land, over a hundred soldiers and officers of each side, shaking hands with men we’d been trying to kill just hours earlier!
SOLDIER 1:  Before long a bonfire was built, and around it we mingled—British khaki and German grey. I must say, the Germans were the better dressed, with fresh uniforms for the holiday.
SOLDIER 4:  Only a couple of our men knew German, but more of the Germans knew English. I asked one of them why that was.
“Because many have worked in England!” he said. “Before all this, I was a waiter at the Hotel Cecil. Perhaps I waited on your table!”
“Perhaps you did!” I said, laughing.
SOLDIER 2:  One German told me he had a girlfriend in London and that the war had interrupted their plans for marriage. I said, “Don’t worry. We’ll have you beat by Easter, then you can come back and marry the girl.”
He laughed at that. Then he asked if I’d send her a postcard he’d give me later, and I promised I would.
SOLDIER 3:  Another German had been a porter at Victoria Station. He showed me a picture of his family back in Munich. His eldest sister was so lovely, I told him I should like to meet her someday. He beamed and said he would like that very much and gave me his family’s address.
SOLDIER 1:  Even those who could not converse could still exchange gifts—our cigarettes for their cigars, our tea for their coffee, our corned beef for their sausage. Badges and buttons from uniforms changed owners, and one of our lads walked off with the infamous spiked helmet!
SOLDIER 4:  I myself traded a jackknife for a leather equipment belt—a fine souvenir to show when I get home.
SOLDIER 2:  Newspapers too changed hands, and the Germans howled with laughter at ours. They assured us that France was finished and Russia nearly beaten too.
SOLDIER 3:  We told them that was nonsense, and one of them said, “Well, you believe your newspapers and we’ll believe ours.”
SOLDIER 1:  Clearly they are lied to—yet after meeting these men, I wonder how truthful our own newspapers have been.
SOLDIER 4:  These are not the “savage barbarians” we’ve read so much about. They are men with homes and families, hopes and fears, principles and, yes, love of country.
SOLDIER 2:  In other words, men like ourselves.
SOLDIER 3:  Why are we led to believe otherwise?
SOLDIER 1:  As it grew late, a few more songs were traded around the fire, and then all joined in for—I am not lying to you—“Auld Lang Syne.”
SOLDIER 4:  Then we parted with promises to meet again tomorrow,
SOLDIER 2:  and even some talk of a football match.
SOLDIER 3:  I was just starting back to the trenches when an older German clutched my arm. “My God,” he said, “why cannot we have peace and all go home?”
I told him gently, “That you must ask your emperor.”
He looked at me then, searchingly. “Perhaps, my friend. But also we must ask our hearts.”
SOLDIER 1:  And so, dear mother,
SOLDIER 4:  dear wife,
SOLDIER 2:  dear friend,
SOLDIER 3:  dear sister,
SOLDIER 1:  tell me, has there ever been such a Christmas Eve in all history?
SOLDIER 4:  And what does it all mean, this impossible befriending of enemies?
SOLDIER 2:  For the fighting here, of course, it means regrettably little. Decent fellows those soldiers may be, but they follow orders and we do the same.
SOLDIER 3:  Besides, we are here to stop their army and send it home, and never could we shirk that duty.
SOLDIER 1:  Still, one cannot help imagine what would happen if the spirit shown here were caught by the nations of the world.
SOLDIER 4:  Of course, disputes must always arise.
SOLDIER 2:  But what if our leaders were to offer well wishes in place of warnings?
SOLDIER 3:  Songs in place of slurs?
SOLDIER 1:  Presents in place of reprisals?
SOLDIER 4:  Would not all war end at once?
SOLDIER 2:  All nations say they want peace.
SOLDIER 3:  Yet on this Christmas morning, I wonder if we want it quite enough.
SOLDIER 1:  Yours truly,
SOLDIER 4:  Yours always,
SOLDIER 2:  Sincerely,
SOLDIER 3:  With all my love,
SOLDIER 1:  John
SOLDIER 4:  Andrew
SOLDIER 2:  Philip
SOLDIER 3:  Tom




Christmas Day, 1914
My dear sister Janet,
It is 2:00 in the morning and most of our men are asleep in their dugouts—yet I could not sleep myself before writing to you of the wonderful events of Christmas Eve. In truth, what happened seems almost like a fairy tale, and if I hadn’t been through it myself, I would scarce believe it. Just imagine: While you and the family sang carols before the fire there in London, I did the same with enemy soldiers here on the battlefields of France!
As I wrote before, there has been little serious fighting of late. The first battles of the war left so many dead that both sides have held back until replacements could come from home. So, we have mostly stayed in our trenches and waited.
But what a terrible waiting it has been! Knowing that any moment an artillery shell might land and explode beside us in the trench, killing or maiming several men. And in daylight not daring to lift our heads above ground, for fear of a sniper’s bullet.
And the rain—it has fallen almost daily. Of course, it collects right in our trenches, where we must bail it out with pots and pans. And with the rain has come mud—a good foot or more deep. It splatters and cakes everything, and constantly sucks at our boots. One new recruit got his feet stuck in it, and then his hands too when he tried to get out—just like in that American story of the tar baby!
Through all this, we couldn’t help feeling curious about the German soldiers across the way. After all, they faced the same dangers we did, and slogged about in the same muck. What’s more, their first trench was only fifty yards from ours. Between us lay No Man’s Land, bordered on both sides by barbed wire—yet they were close enough we sometimes heard their voices.
Of course, we hated them whenever they killed our friends. But other times, we joked about them and almost felt we had something in common. And now it seems they felt the same.
Just yesterday morning—Christmas Eve Day—we had our first good freeze. Cold as we were, we welcomed it, because at least the mud froze solid. Everything was tinged white with frost, while a bright sun shone over all. Perfect Christmas weather.
During the day, there was little shelling or rifle fire from either side. And as darkness fell on our Christmas Eve, the shooting stopped entirely. Our first complete silence in months! We hoped it might promise a peaceful holiday, but we didn’t count on it. We’d been told the Germans might attack and try to catch us off guard.
I went to the dugout to rest, and lying on my cot, I must have drifted asleep. All at once my friend John was shaking me awake, saying, “Come and see! See what the Germans are doing!” I grabbed my rifle, stumbled out into the trench, and stuck my head cautiously above the sandbags.
I never hope to see a stranger and more lovely sight. Clusters of tiny lights were shining all along the German line, left and right as far as the eye could see.
“What is it?” I asked in bewilderment, and John answered, “Christmas trees!”
And so it was. The Germans had placed Christmas trees in front of their trenches, lit by candle or lantern like beacons of good will.
And then we heard their voices raised in song.
Stille nacht, heilige nacht . . .
This carol may not yet be familiar to us in Britain, but John knew it and translated: “Silent night, holy night.” I’ve never heard one lovelier—or more meaningful, in that quiet, clear night, its dark softened by a first-quarter moon.
When the song finished, the men in our trenches applauded. Yes, British soldiers applauding Germans! Then one of our own men started singing, and we all joined in.
The first Nowell, the angel did say . . .
In truth, we sounded not nearly as good as the Germans, with their fine harmonies. But they responded with enthusiastic applause of their own and then began another.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum . . .
Then we replied.
O come all ye faithful . . .
But this time they joined in, singing the words in Latin.
Adeste fideles . . .
British and German harmonizing across No Man’s Land! I would have thought nothing could be more amazing—but what came next was more so.
“English, come over!” we heard one of them shout. “You no shoot, we no shoot.”
There in the trenches, we looked at each other in bewilderment. Then one of us shouted jokingly, “You come over here.”
To our astonishment, we saw two figures rise from the trench, climb over their barbed wire, and advance unprotected across No Man’s Land. One of them called, “Send officer to talk.”
I saw one of our men lift his rifle to the ready, and no doubt others did the same—but our captain called out, “Hold your fire.” Then he climbed out and went to meet the Germans halfway. We heard them talking, and a few minutes later, the captain came back with a German cigar in his mouth!
“We’ve agreed there will be no shooting before midnight tomorrow,” he announced. “But sentries are to remain on duty, and the rest of you, stay alert.”
Across the way, we could make out groups of two or three men starting out of trenches and coming toward us. Then some of us were climbing out too, and in minutes more, there we were in No Man’s Land, over a hundred soldiers and officers of each side, shaking hands with men we’d been trying to kill just hours earlier!
Before long a bonfire was built, and around it we mingled—British khaki and German grey. I must say, the Germans were the better dressed, with fresh uniforms for the holiday.
Only a couple of our men knew German, but more of the Germans knew English. I asked one of them why that was.
“Because many have worked in England!” he said. “Before all this, I was a waiter at the Hotel Cecil. Perhaps I waited on your table!”
“Perhaps you did!” I said, laughing.
He told me he had a girlfriend in London and that the war had interrupted their plans for marriage. I said, “Don’t worry. We’ll have you beat by Easter, then you can come back and marry the girl.”
He laughed at that. Then he asked if I’d send her a postcard he’d give me later, and I promised I would.
Another German had been a porter at Victoria Station. He showed me a picture of his family back in Munich. His eldest sister was so lovely, I told him I should like to meet her someday. He beamed and said he would like that very much and gave me his family’s address.
Even those who could not converse could still exchange gifts—our cigarettes for their cigars, our tea for their coffee, our corned beef for their sausage. Badges and buttons from uniforms changed owners, and one of our lads walked off with the infamous spiked helmet! I myself traded a jackknife for a leather equipment belt—a fine souvenir to show when I get home.
Newspapers too changed hands, and the Germans howled with laughter at ours. They assured us that France was finished and Russia nearly beaten too. We told them that was nonsense, and one of them said, “Well, you believe your newspapers and we’ll believe ours.”
Clearly they are lied to—yet after meeting these men, I wonder how truthful our own newspapers have been. These are not the “savage barbarians” we’ve read so much about. They are men with homes and families, hopes and fears, principles and, yes, love of country. In other words, men like ourselves. Why are we led to believe otherwise?
As it grew late, a few more songs were traded around the fire, and then all joined in for—I am not lying to you—“Auld Lang Syne.” Then we parted with promises to meet again tomorrow, and even some talk of a football match.
I was just starting back to the trenches when an older German clutched my arm. “My God,” he said, “why cannot we have peace and all go home?”
I told him gently, “That you must ask your emperor.”
He looked at me then, searchingly. “Perhaps, my friend. But also we must ask our hearts.”
And so, dear sister, tell me, has there ever been such a Christmas Eve in all history? And what does it all mean, this impossible befriending of enemies?
For the fighting here, of course, it means regrettably little. Decent fellows those soldiers may be, but they follow orders and we do the same. Besides, we are here to stop their army and send it home, and never could we shirk that duty.
Still, one cannot help imagine what would happen if the spirit shown here were caught by the nations of the world. Of course, disputes must always arise. But what if our leaders were to offer well wishes in place of warnings? Songs in place of slurs? Presents in place of reprisals? Would not all war end at once?
All nations say they want peace. Yet on this Christmas morning, I wonder if we want it quite enough.
Your loving brother,
Tom