christmasEveryone should know of the informal Christmas Truce that spread among soldiers in the trenches near Ypres in 1914, one hundred years ago. Instigated by a British officer writing to his German counterpart across No Man’s Land, it spread up and down the battle lines as, for a few hours, the guns stopped firing, while yesterday‘s and tomorrow’s combatants sang hymns together and celebrated the birth of the Prince of Peace.

Now the tale has been retold, in a moving Yuletide television commercial, by Sainsbury’s, a major British supermarket chain, which re-filmed the event with the help of the British Legion and the Imperial War museum.

christmas truce 1914The advertisement follows a British tradition several years old, pioneered by John Lewis, a much-loved department store owned by its workers, downplaying commercialism and highlighting the virtues of Christmastime. Their 2013 commercial celebrates the friendship between a cartoon rabbit and a bear that stops hibernating long enough to share Christmas. Their 2014 work displays the love of a boy for his imaginary pet penguin. Both are moving and charming, and build their brand’s reputation as pro-family and not blatantly materialistic.

Sainsbury’s 2014 ad is the first to stress the Christianity of Christmas. German and British soldiers start to sing “Silent Night” almost spontaneously; while the only visible product is a WW1-era chocolate bar. I find it emotionally powerful.

You can watch the Sainsbury’s commercial here:

And see how it was made here:

It is fairly certain that successful merchants, and their advertising firms, perceive a British public resistance to the commercialisation of Christmas, and have altered their seasonal messaging accordingly. This is to be celebrated in general; and in particular by Sainsbury’s bringing Christianity into their latest ad. It appeals to most Britons, and their popular news media, but not to the state and the elite Chattering Classes.

Next, while hardly relevant to Yuletide, I long to see a dramatization, or an ad, on another piece of lore from the Great War, the Angel of Mons.

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