We are constantly reminded every day of our looming debt crisis during this pre-holiday period (at the time of this writing). Just maybe we should drift back in time and hear and see how Christmases were spent with the military in wartime.
Indeed as we head into the holiday of Christmas, we see a rag-tag army in December 1777, entering Valley Forge, Pa., led by Gen. George Washington and close to 12,000 cold, scantily clothed and direly fed soldiers, plus several hundred spouses and children, including Martha Washington. You see, there were bloody footprints in the snow left by those bootless wonders that were near naked other than the thin blankets that enshrouded them.
Their Christmas did not include family warmth and cheer and gifts and carved hams and chocolates and the things that we enjoy on this holiday. Instead, we see cold, disease-ridden people with the want to just have shoes; soldiers fed by occasional soup.
Those, in fact, were the soldiers defending the freedom that we enjoy today. Out of this suffering, believe it or not, Valley Forge is also where a very confident professional army was born. This was because of the expert training and drilling by Baron von Steuben, formerly of the Prussian army, who seemed to instill pride and even discipline into the ragged troops. Those troops became a champion fighting force that we still have.
Of the list of famous names who served and existed at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-78 included not only Washington but Nathaniel Greene, Marquis de Lafayette, Baron Von Steuben, Henry Knox, Anthony Wayne, Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, John Marshall and James Monroe, all of whom became famous in one way or another.
As we drift onward into our American Civil war from 1861-64, we find that it was very difficult all the time, and especially at Christmas time for the soldiers on both sides and also for the families that were left at home.
You see, there were many hardships on the home front for mothers and children, as husbands and sons were in the army. Their responsibilities grew, as they now did the farming and tending to livestock and doing many so-called "manly" chores. Hardships escalated in the south and especially at Christmas.
In personal accounts, a 3-year-old said that he was tired of the war because Santa Claus forgot to come to the Shenandoah Valley. There were many southern children told that Santa was a Yankee, and the Confederate army would not let him through.
In the north, children received their gifts as always, because in the north, the economy was flourishing. Union soldiers would use salt pork and hard tack to decorate their Christmas trees. Their Christmas meals sometimes consisted of the same decorations as on their trees.
Christmas of 1862 found the Lincoln family visiting injured soldiers at several hospitals. In 1863 many Union soldiers received gifts from Tad Lincoln as he was extremely moved by the plight of the soldiers. Those gifts consisted of books and clothing. There were, of course, Christmas carols sung by both sides at many campsites during those war years.
During World War I, in the winter of 1914, on the battlefields of Flanders (before the U.S. entered the war), it seems that one of the most unusual events in history and Christmas took place. The Germans had been fiercely fighting the British and French. Both sides were dug in at the trenches. All at once, German troops put up small Christmas trees, some lit with candles outside their trenches, and began singing songs and carols. Immediately across "no man's land" came songs from the British and French. They proposed a Christmas truce. The Germans put up signs outside their trenches in English proclaiming "you no fight, we no fight." The British sent back "Merry Christmas!"
A Christmas truce resulted, as soldiers left their trenches and met in the middle shaking hands. They buried their dead and actually exchanged gifts of chocolate cake, cognac, newspapers and tobacco. It didn't last that long, but for a few precious moments there was peace on earth and good will toward men.
During our own debt crisis, wouldn't it be nice for Congress and the president to declare a truce and work for the people at this holiday period?