2014 was the 100th anniversary of WWI. In Britain, it was also the beginning of years of celebrations. After discussing the impact of the Great War in Great Britain and the importance of the anniversary, I’ll give an example of how deeply this is embedded in everyday life. Christmas 2014 will be remembered forever because of a promotional film by the supermarket chain Sainsbury’s.
This short video, of little more than three minutes, staged one of the most famous episodes occurred during World War I, the Christmas Truce. In 1914, on Christmas Eve, soldiers in a remote location in Germany sang Holy Night on one side, Stille Nacht on the other. On Christmas day, a couple of young soldiers ventured on no man’s land – the territory between the trenches – and shook hands. They played football, collected dead bodies and shared stories. Jim, an English guy, shows Otto, German young men, the letters from his girlfriend and the chocolate bar she sent him. Almost without using words, actors recreate a Christmas miracle. At the end of the day, soldiers go back to the trenches and look in their pockets. The English young man finds a piece of gingerbread, the German soldier finds the bar of chocolate, the same the Sainsbury’s sold at 1p pound over Christmas period.
The ad was produced with the collaboration of a war historian and the Royal British Legion, to which all profits from chocolate bars have been donated. Sainsbury’s has a 20 years partnership with Royal British Legion and decided to commemorate this moving historic episode after the incredible emotive response of British public to the artwork Blood Swept Lands and Red Seas, a rain of ceramic poppies that covered Tower of London for months. The gesture, though, was not universally accepted as a commemoration. Dozens of people protested on social media platforms or writing directly to Sainsbury’s, believing the ad to be a revolting expedient to boost Christmas sales. Despite the participation of Royal British Legion and the importance of fundraising, the sentiment was strong that images of war shouldn’t be used as the advertisement, and that Sainsbury’s used the sentiments related to Christmastime and World War I to sell more groceries.
Historic reliability of the reconstruction was also discussed. In fact, there are no proofs that Christmas actually took place, except oral evidence. But denying the existence of this episode could be more offensive than its use in advertising.
Christmas Truce is a story to remember us all that even in the worst of times, humanity exists. Humanity seeks refuge in a corner of us and survives.Is it worse to criticize a lack of humanity, or suggest that it didn’t exist in the first place?