The amazing author and blogger, Kellyn Roth, is running a contest to celebrate having reached ONE THOUSAND followers! (Congratulations!!!) You can check it out HERE.
Thank you so much for running this contest, Kellyn! It’s all very exciting! 😀
So, here is my entry – The Most Important Thing of All…
Christmas in the trenches was never going to be fun.
But Christmas in a prison camp is going to be worse.
And right now, it’s looking like I’ll be spending my Christmas in solitary confinement. Which, statistically speaking, is probably going to be even less fun than any of the aforementioned options.
You see, if you think a trench is the least joyful place on earth, you’d probably be right. But a prison camp – that’s hell. So I thought I’d try and at least get out for Christmas – celebrating huddled up in a muddy ditch somewhere sounded preferable. That’s how I wound up trying to escape this joy-sucking hole – cutting through the wire in the dead of night.
Unfortunately, my calculations were off. Dogs, guards, guns, and soon I was being hauled to the cooler for the night. Instead of improving my situation, it would appear that all I did was make it worse.
I sit, hugging my knees for warmth, back pressed against rough stone as the minutes of the night tick by. I didn’t think that there would be any sign that Christmas day had come, but there is. Through the walls, I hear metal clatter against metal. Men cheer in the day, and guards shout in an attempt to restore order. A smile creeps over my face. Even here, they can’t steal our joy. They can’t stop us from celebrating the beginning of the most precious day of all.
Sometime during the night, I fall asleep. I wake to torchlight in my face and a stiff neck, blinking as I prop myself up on one elbow and squint past the light to the guard in front of me.
“Kommandant’s given you a day’s respite from solitary confinement – in the spirit of Christmas. You’ll be back in tomorrow, mind.”
My jaw drops. This guard’s voice may be gruff, but those are the sweetest words I’ve ever heard. I practically skip past him and into the main compound, greeted by the cheers of soldiers from all over the world. The dismal air of the day before is completely gone, replaced by cheering men and the smell of food wafting towards me.
“The Russian workers found a few dead pigs in the forest,” an American informs me, clapping me on the back. “We’ll feast today.”
I can already taste the food – the best I’ll have had since going to war, I’m sure. For one day, maybe we will be able to transform the horrors of the camp into something entirely different.
A noise buzzes overhead. It only takes me a second to realise what it is – but as I do, so does everyone around me. Men scramble for cover, ducking under tables and sinks, dashing into buildings, and covering their heads as the whine of engines rips through the sky. War doesn’t stop for Christmas – why should these planes?
But instead of bombs or bullets, thousands of boxes cascade through the sky as the planes fly over us. When we recognise the boxes, a great cheer arises. The Red Cross has delivered.
Men start to grab the boxes, throwing them to one another.
I step out from under a row of sinks, spinning around in a shower of heavy boxes. They thud to the ground – some bursting open and scattering chocolate, cigarettes, and coffee over the frozen ground. A bar of chocolate comes skittering over the ground to lie at my feet, and I grasp at it – rip open a silver corner, and sink my teeth into the goodness within. I haven’t had chocolate for a whole year.
A man wearing a flying jacket pushes a full box under my nose. “Trade your fags for my chocolate, mate?”
I nod, tear open the box, toss him the packet. He hands over the bar, and I slip it into a pocket, along with the one I just took a bite out of. For me, chocolate is worth more than smokes, coffee, or anything else hidden in these boxes. I’d give up anything for it.
When the frenzied tearing of boxes has died down, and the swapping and trading have finished, most of the men have a cigarette hanging from their mouth, or are digging into a bar of chocolate. I have a box that holds nothing but six bars of chocolate. And I’m very pleased with my spoils. They can have all their fags and coffees – I’ve got enough chocolate to last me until next Christmas, if I’m careful with it.
The guards stand around, languid. Most lean on walls, watching our joy with half an eye as they fiddle with rifles and bayonets. Thank the Lord, they allowed us to keep the boxes.
I glance down at my collection of chocolate as a sudden thought hits me – piercing like a bullet. The guards have no Christmas boxes – nothing to give them even a somewhat pleasant Christmas – nothing at all. But… I can’t give away this chocolate. It’s the only thing that will help me survive the trials of this camp.
I hug my box to my chest – but some of my pleasure is gone. The nagging feeling that to share would be the right thing to do refuses to go away. I shake it off, and try to join in with the festivities – but nothing feels quite as it should. Yes, I’m in a prison camp, but I should still be able to enjoy myself. And yet, my conscience is pricking me so hard that I can concentrate on nothing else.
After a few hours of stabbing guilt, I know that there can only be one conclusion to this turmoil. I look around at the guards, sigh, and then strip the wrapper from the first bar. There are too many of them for a bar apiece – I’ll have to settle for giving a square to every guard that I can.
When I approach the first man, he snaps to attention, grabbing at his rifle as if I’m holding a grenade out to him. I hold up a hand in fear.
“Hey, hey! It’s just chocolate! Would you like some?”
Confusion flits across his face for a moment, and then he accepts the dark square, grunting his thanks. I smile at the look of enjoyment on his face as he pops it into his mouth, face melting along with the candyhocolate.
I continue around the compound, handing a square of chocolate to every guard I meet. The pangs of giving it up are soon overtaken by the joy of giving – something so small, but yet so precious – something that brings pleasure to the face of every man I give it too.
Before long, I only have a bar and a square left. I’ve given chocolate to every guard currently in the camp – every guard, that is, except one. I cling to the bar for a moment, and then make my decision. In the spirit of Christmas, I’ll give it up.
I march into the Kommandant’s office, interrupting him halfway through a cigarette. He sits upright sharply, hand shooting towards a whistle that lies on his desk. I don’t speak, just hold out the chocolate. He looks at me with suspicion splashed across his face.
“A present, Kommandant. A Christmas offering, from one man to another,” I say with a smile, placing it on his desk and making my exit. As I walk, I gaze at the single square of chocolate that remains and pop it into my mouth. It seems to taste all the sweeter for the kindnesses that have surrounded it.
My foot hits something, and I stop to pick it up. The New Testament – a small, brown book that must have fallen from somebody’s Red Cross box. The book sparks an old memory – a younger version of me pacing the floor of my room, repeating a verse over and over again to prepare for church; “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
For a second, my small gifts seem to pale in comparison of the greatest gift of all – the one that Jesus gave, so many years ago. But then, I see how glorious it is in God’s eyes – for me, just a few moments of kindness, but for him, something that matters more than anything. And as the last taste of chocolate melts away, and someone, somewhere, strikes up a Christmas carol, I stand alone, gospel in hand. Maybe the chocolate wasn’t the most important thing about this Christmas, after all.