Good Morning, we will continue our journey until Christmas with the story of the Christmas Truce. This Christmas Truce Happened during World War II. Thousands of Germans and English soldiers put down their arms to celebrate Christmas. It is a special episode during the Great War and it happened in 1914.
The Germans were determined to take the allied troops off guard. The French wanted to gain back their lost territories. The Germans wanted to take the French out that way they could fight the Russians on the eastern front. The Germans were pushed back and then they decided to dig in. However, this failed and both sides dug in. At the start of the war, the fighting was in the open field. There were no trenches. They fought in the open Nobody expected what was to come next.
The soldiers ranged from the ’20s to their 40’s. It was a professional army. They were career soldiers. There were no conscripts. The Home Service ran at half state and when the war started, other soldiers were recalled to make up the difference. Many of the men were not in tip-top fighting conditions. The British had lost 90,000 men. However, despite this, the German army was halted. The Great War was now a siege. The trench made it safer for the men to live.
However, poor drainage in the trenches leads to mud in the trenches. Mud was a constant problem and a constant companion. It was sticky. The men were sent to the hospital because of their cold and wet feet. It was a challenge to keep their feet clean. Sleeping was a challenge. It was so cold. They sleep on the fire step or sleep on bags. The man was exhausted. It was nearly impossible to keep clean in the trenches. With the little water, they had the soldiers managed to keep themselves clean.
Cleaning the weapons was also a challenge. The soldiers had to keep their guns clean. Two or three times the soldiers were clean the weapons. The mud could cause their guns to jam. Mealtimes were considered a high point of the day. The British rations were intended to feed the body. The food was repetitive. It keeps the body going.
Conditions were barely better on the German side of no man’s land. They worked on extending trenches. They tried to keep everyone supplied. The soldiers suffered from bowel problems. It was the same thing every single day. The men in the trenches do not see an end to the war. On Christmas, Eve frost comes. The conditions were ripe for what happened in December 1914. Something is in the air.
The British headquarters thought that the Germans would attack, however it was not an attack. They were celebrating Christmas. The British soldiers saw the colored lights. German families had sent Christmas trees to the front. The German soldiers started singing Christmas trees. The British soldiers were suspicious of the activities of the Germans. Slowly the suspicions went away. Soldiers started shouting across the no man’s land. On Christmas, you did not shoot each other. Slowly bolder spirits climbed out of the trenches to meet each other. Celebrations started breaking out among groups on Christmas Day. Christmas Day would be celebrated in an unforgettable way in December 1914.
This is an excellent documentary about the Christmas truce. It was a bit slow to set up, however, the slowness demonstrated what fostered the Christmas truce. I would show it in the classroom either as a teacher or a sub. It would be a great way to end off the year before Christmas vacation.
You can access the documentary at this link.
The Legends of Santa Clause
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! To celebrate Christmas in December, we will be looking at Christmas documentaries. This next documentary is about the Legends of Santa Clause. Richard Attenborough explores the story of Santa Clause. The story of Santa takes us around the world.
The search for Santa begins in Turkey. This area was the birthplace of St. Nicholas. He was unique even as a baby. Fasting on Wednesdays to Fridays. A church is named in his honor. A now-empty tomb is believed to have healing powers. He was elected bishop. It was unusual, a voice in the night told a member to elect him as bishop. He became the patron saint of children and sailors.
His most famous story deals with a man’s three daughters. The father had no dowry for his daughters. His oldest daughter offered to be sold as a slave to provide a dowry. The father prayed and all of a sudden money was thrown through the window. The daughters were allowed to marry. These stories gave Nicholas a legendary status. He became a favorite saint. Italian sailors smuggled his bones out of Turkey and built a church around those bones. Modern Turks celebrate Saint Nicholas and are proud that he came from Turkey.
During Roman times Saturnalia became a feast day for Christians. Gifts and light were part of the celebrations. It was the midwinter celebrations. The Puritans would eventually ban celebrating Christmas because such celebrations were not found in the bible. Assigning the Christmas season to December 25 was a compromise.
Our story then moves to Amsterdam. The city streets and Canals are lined up with people ready to greet Father Christmas. He was known as Sinter Klaus. Due to the Reformation, many Catholic traditions were banned. However, the children would not have it, because they wanted to have a feast. The tradition that started in the streets turned into a home tradition. On the eve of St. Nicholas Day. The children would put out shoes by the fireplace, in these shoes would be a list of the children’s wishes and refreshments. They put out water, carrots, and apples and would sing a song to call out to Sinter Klaus. They sing the songs so that Black Peter, a rival of Sinter Clause, would know that they were good children. Black Peter was known as a punisher of children. HE would put the bad children in a sack and would be taken back to Spain. The children would be kept in Spain for a year and would be good and obedient.
Now we go across the Atlantic and New York City. Manhattan had a vital role in creating Santa into a character that is now recognized around the world. Many Dutch immigrants settled in New Amsterdam, present-day New York City. They brought the idea of Santa, but none of the rituals. Santa was going to be reinvented. In the early 19th Century Santa was reinvented. Washington Irving wrote about the Dutch tradition of Sinter Klaus. Clement Clarke Moore saw this story and would eventually write “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”
This is a sweet documentary about the history of Santa Clause. You traveled around the world to learn about the origins of Santa. So this would be a good documentary to show in class studying legends and stories. This documentary had a good pace throughout the episode and it was a good exploration of Santa’s Story. If you had a sub in the classroom at the end of the year before Christmas then they could show this documentary in the classroom.
You can access the YouTube Documentary Here.
Wartime Farm at Christmas
Peter and Ruth return to the Wartime Farm. They come back to recreate the conditions of 1944 and celebrate Christmas. They will have their work cut out for them without Alex. The countryside had to support the city. Ruth clears out the ditches to help carry the water away. A pie scheme was created to help the farmworkers get the calories they needed to keep going.
Five years of fighting had devastated the farmland. The government was pushing and pushing for more farmland to be plowed up. The country people moved into the city to help the city folks. London was under threat from a new deadly weapon. V1 bombs were pilotless bombs, and when they came over a city, their engines would cut out and they would drop. The V2 rocket was the next weapon unleashed by the Nazis. Over 9,000 people were killed.
Ruth talks with a survivor of the London Bombings. For 1944, it was the first Christmas without her father because he was killed on D-Day. At the time, nobody told children if a parent died. These survivors treasure the letters her father sent her. The government sent out Anderson bomb shelters. However, they would be less than ideal. They would flood and they were not very secure. People were buried alive in the shelter. Farmers would use the shelters for storage.
London took the brunt of the attacks. They went to communal shelters. The Women’s Institute and Women’s Voluntary Institution helped take care of the people in the communal shelters. Peter and Ruth talk about what they should do for Christmas. At the start of the war, families evacuated to the country. By 1944, the country people went into the cities to help.
One moral booster was beer. Beer was never rationed during the war. During the war, barley shortages hit the breweries hard. So Peter looks for alternatives to make beer. Colin joins up with Peter to use potatoes to make beer. First, the potatoes need to be washed and put into sacks. Then they needed to be crushed. Colin then tries to make a brewery. Peter and Colin then use the potatoes to make beer. Containers used to store beer were in short supply, so Peter turns to pottery for a container.
Rationing and shortages made celebrating Christmas a challenge. Families either recycled old decorations or made new directions. They brought in colorful flowers called Chinese Lanterns. Christmas trees were scarce as well. Paper decorates were reused year after year. Balloons were also scarce. The Nazis were dropping strips of metal to confuse the radar. However, the people used this metal for Christmas decorations.
The farmers turn to the church for comfort during Christmas. During World War II people returned to the church. Before the war, people were falling away from the church. The war also turned people off the church and after the war, people stopped going to church. Ruth comments that the government wanted the church to bind people together. Even Stalin saw the value in religion and was encouraging churches to reopen. He hoped that the people could bind together and then after the war, religion was banned again.
Prisoners of War came to the local churches and performed for the congregation. Some members remained in England and married local girls. One local community member was friends with two prisoners of war. They both married local girls and they maintained a lifelong friendship with the local people.
After church, Peter checks on the potato beer. So did the beer turn out? Tune into the rest of this episode to find out.
This would be an excellent episode to show towards the end of December when school is winding down for the year.
Tudor Monastery at Christmas
To continue with the Christmas theme for December, we will look at Tudor Monastery Farm at Christmas. Christmas was the biggest celebration of the year. Ruth Goodman, Tom Pinfold, and Peter Ginn return to the Tudor Monastery farm to celebrate Christmas Tudor style.
Tudors celebrated Christmas over 12 days with the 12th night being the biggest party of the year. The farmers fasted for 24 days to prepare for the days of feasting. It was a chance to save food and money for the celebration. Farmers would also lay down their tools during the 12 days of Christmas. Peter and Tom would make sure that the animals were well fed before the celebrations.
Ruth prepares the pig's head for the Christmas feast. Boars head was the traditional meal for Christmas. The Boar was the fiercest animal that the Tudor hunted. They were hunted to extinction and so Ruth prepares a pig head. Ruth pickles the pig's head to preserve it for the feasting. To help Ruth prepare for the feasting, Tom stocks up the farm with wood. You could control the heat of the fire by using different woods.
To help brighten up the home, Peter goes into the woods to pick holly and ivy. Peter and Tom work to make a Christmas Crown to hang in the Tudor farm. They use their fence-building skills to make the crown. However, the boys made it too big for the farm door. Poor Ruth is busy with cooking for Christmas. Christmas was the time where the common people could experience the height of luxury. Foods from all around the world were a part of the Tudor Feast. It was also the chance for the Tudor Farmer to help the poor with their celebrations. There was a variety of foods that were made for the Tudor feast at Christmas. The Christmas Pudding and Mince pie made their way to the table during the feast at Christmas. The mince pie originally contained meat during the Tudor Period and over the years the spice and fruit combination while the meat in the pie declined. However, since there were no tins in the Tudor Period the pastry had to be quite stiff to bake.
The first day of the Twelve Days of Christmas was Christmas Day. It was on Christmas day when the people would break their fast. The day kicked off with a morning Mass. Ruth, Peter, and Tom celebrated Christmas with the people who helped them on the farm in the past year. It was the one time of year where the most meat would be eaten. Ruth makes the connection between the courses of the Tudor Feast and how modern people feast. Professor Ronald Hutton provides commentary on why there were celebrations during Midwinter.
The second day of the twelve days of Christmas was the feast day of St. Stephen. Peter checks on the animals. Tradition had it that farmers would not work in the field. Peter discovers that their pigs had piglets, much to Peter’s delight. The monasteries celebrated Christmas communally. The feasting in the monasteries tended towards the poultry: swans, ducks, and chickens. Tudor farmers raised huge amounts of swans, especially for the monasteries.
Ruth and Tom learn about falconry. Aristocrats learned it to show off for their friends, the lower classes of people learned it to hunt. This was another way that the Tudor farmer supplied the monastery with poultry.
To continue to learn more about the Tudor Feast at Christmas, continue to watch this episode.
You can show this episode during the Christmas season in school. You could even try to make some of the foods in the classroom!
You can access the YouTube video here.
This special series concludes with a Victorian Christmas celebration. The blacksmiths forge is up and running. Ruth prepares the Christmas feast.
Just copy and paste into a word document for use in the classroom.
Preparations continue for the Victorian Farm Christmas. Ruth makes presents for the boys and boys work to restore a blacksmith's forge to its former glory.
Just copy and paste into a word document for use in the classroom.
It has been a year since Peter Ginn, Alex Langladas, and Ruth Goodman lived as Victorian Farmers. Rupert Acton has several tasks for the Victorian farmers as the team prepares for a Victorian Christmas.
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