Gifts of Change

Many of us have probably at one point or another heard of the Christmas truce of World War One. The story of soldiers crossing in to no man's land in order to exchange gifts and to sing carols together.


But have you heard of the Christmas truce of 1862?


The Union had just lost the Battle of Fredericksburg, and the army hunkered down for winter.


On Christmas day, a young soldier of the 140th Pennsylvania volunteer regiment, as he along with a handful of other soldiers were on patrol, crossed paths with a small bunch of confederate soldiers on the shores of the Rappahannock river. The soldiers decided to converse instead of shoot. They called to each other across the river.


"Hello, Johnny, what you coughing so for?"

"Yank, with no overcoat, shoes full of holes, nothing to eat but parched com and tobacco, and with this derned Yankee snow a foot deep, there's no-thin' left, nothin' but to get up a cough by way of protestin' against this infernal ill treatment of the body. We uns, Yank, all have a cough over here, and there's no sayin' which will run us to hole first, the cough or your bullets." (1)


The union soldier of the 140th was a young man who would go on to be known as Reverend John Randolph Paxton.


Paxton and his fellow union soldiers loaded some makeshift miniature boats with coffee, sugar, and pork, sailing them across to the confederates. In return, the confederates sent parched corn, tobacco and ripe persimmons.


"And so the day passed. We shouted, "Merry Christmas, Johnny." They shouted, "Same to you, Yank." And we forgot the biting wind, the chilling cold ; we forgot those men over there were our enemies, whom it might be our duty to shoot before evening. We had bridged the river, spanned the bloody chasm. We were brothers, not foes, waving salutations of good-will in the name of the Babe of Bethlehem, on Christmas Day in '62. At the very front of the opposing armies, the Christ Child struck a truce for us, broke down the wall of partition, became our peace. We exchanged gifts. We shouted greetings back and forth. We kept Christmas and our hearts were lighter for it, and our shivering bodies were not quite so cold."(2)


Sometimes some of the most simple acts when done in the spirit of the giving season of Christmas can mean the most to someone else. This story (Paxton's Christmas truce) that shows how in war the simple act of sharing love and kindness reminds me of one of my favorite Christmas stories.


The story is called The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, it was written by Susan Wojciechowski and illustrated by P. J. Lynch. The story tells of a woodcarver, who having lost his wife and child, is gruff and not well liked by the townsfolk. His name is Jonathan Toomey. Then one Christmas he gets a request for a new nativity set from a Widow McDowell. As the carver works the widow's son Thomas looks on and different points explains the way that the nativity figures should look, such as the cow being proud, the sheep being happy and the angel looking like it was one of GOD's most important angels. This project (carving the nativity) brought joy back to Mr. Toomey's life. (You will have to either read the book yourself or listen to Will Sarris read it below, to find out the rest of the story).


So as Christmas Day draws near this week may we look a new at the nativity - the gift that changes lives. But may we also look to find the little acts that brighten someone else's day.


Footnotes:

(1) https://www.battlefields.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/xmas%20on%20the%20rappahannock.pdf

(2) https://www.battlefields.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/xmas%20on%20the%20rappahannock.pdf


Resources:

https://www.battlefields.org/learn/primary-sources/christmas-rappahannock

https://emergingcivilwar.com/2016/12/23/christmas-on-the-rappahannock/