Christmas in the Trenches

One of my all time favorite musicians  is the vastly talented, mufti-faceted folk singer John McCutcheon.  I’ve attended John’s performances when he’s in the Shenandoah Valley ever since my children were small and he had brown hair.  🙂  My older daughter Alison, an especially big fan of John’s since she was six, now has a little boy and girl of her own listening to his wonderful collection of children’s music.  If you aren’t familiar with John McCutcheon, you’re missing out.  He has music for everybody and can play just about any instrument.  My favorite of his is the old-time hammered dulcimer–love that sound.  He’s also a riveting story-teller, and that’s what this post centers on.

*Image of John McCutcheon from Encyclopedia of Appalachia

John’s favorite and best known story is one that a cleaning woman first shared with him while he was in his dressing room awaiting his next performance.  It has to do with World War One, especially interesting to me as my grandfather was in the thick of the fighting in France, and the impromptu Christmas Truce that came about in 1914.

Most of us had never heard of this event, and neither had John, but the spunky cleaning woman told him about the time when an  unofficial ceasefire that took place along the Western Front at Christmas.

From Wikipedia: “Through the week leading up to Christmas, parties of German and British soldiers began to exchange seasonal greetings and songs between their trenches; on occasion, the tension was reduced to the point that individuals would walk across to talk to their opposite numbers bearing gifts. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many soldiers from both sides – as well as, to a lesser degree, from French units – independently ventured into “No man’s land“, where they mingled, exchanging food and souvenirs. As well as joint burial ceremonies, several meetings ended in carol-singing. Troops from both sides had also been so friendly as to play games of football with one another.”

*Image from SodaHead.  More images and info on that site.

So impressed was John by this amazing story he immediately wrote his signature song, Christmas in the Trenches.  Truly an inspired work and one that has touched countless lives with its powerful and stirring message.  I also heard John share about the time a very elderly WWI veteran told him after a performance that he knew this story to be true because he was there when the truce happened.

And now, John McCutcheon and the song:

4 responses to “Christmas in the Trenches

  1. Love this song, Beth. Up to now, I’d only heard the John McDermott version. I always loved the story of the Christmas truce. If enemies could lay down their arms to celebrate Christmas together in the middle of a war, maybe there’s still hope for mankind. Merry Christmas!


  2. I think to have heard of the Christmas truce of 1914 you have to be a fan of radio. NPR ran it last year. Maybe it was your John McCutcheon who read it. Had the truce gone all the way up the chain of command the war might have ended in 1914.



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