German and French soldiers in World War I

Watch “Joyeux Noel”

The 2005 film “Joyeux Noel” (“Merry Christmas”) has profound lessons to teach a divided United States in 2020.

It tells the story of the Christmas Truce of December 24-25, 1914, during World War I. Groups of Germans and Allies are waging war on each other from trenches in northern France. They are so close together that they can hear each other. A small strip of No Man’s Land, littered with the bodies of their dead, divides them.

The truce begins to take shape when German Crown Prince Wilheim sends a lot of Christmas trees and the lead singer of the Berlin Imperial Opera to the front line. After listening to the singing in the German trenches, the French soldiers rise up for a standing ovation from their trenches. Eventually the German singer moves to the middle of No Man’s Land to sing for everyone.

The officers from all troops meet to negotiate a truce. The soldiers come out from the trenches to share food, sing carols, attend a church service, bury their death and play soccer. Then it’s back to war. But the soldiers have met the enemy, and they are not the same.

When their commanders learn about the truce from reading the soldier’s letters home, the reaction is fury. The German soldiers are even sent to the Russian front in January on a suicide mission.

This story has much to say today when people … even Christians … of different political parties in the United States despise each other. We need to come out of the trenches and talk.

You can rent “Joyeux Noel” on YouTube. Actors in the movie speak English, French and German, with subtitles.