Around Christmastime in 1914, World War I soldiers defied orders to celebrate the holiday with their enemies in what is now called the Christmas Truce of 1914.
In celebration of the November re-opening of Soldiers Memorial Military Museum — which underwent a $30 million revitalization — in downtown St. Louis, the Missouri Historical Society and the Mustard Seed Theatre at Fontbonne University are collaborating to present a concert version of the a capella musical All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914.
“This historic moment helped soldiers on opposing sides see the humanity in who was supposed to be their enemy,” says Marvin-Alonzo Greer, education and visitor experience lead at the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum. “Few times in history has anything like the Christmas Truce happened — that is what makes it such a captivating event. Two nations polarized by war — it was the soldiers who decided to look for the [good] in those across the battlefield. They were trying to maintain their humanity in a time of war and destruction.”
The musical resonates with diverse audiences because it’s a “journey story,” according to Deanna Jent, artistic director of the Mustard Seed Theatre.
“We see the soldiers excited to sign up, off to an adventure and then stuck in reality,” she says. “That’s a story many people can relate to, whether they’ve been in the military or not. It’s also a story of a tiny bit of hope in a desolate world.”
Oftentimes, we look at military history from a singular lens of battles and dates, but the stories are far more complex and interesting, according to Greer.
“In an increasingly polarized political climate, stories like these show us when we put faction to the side and sit down at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood, great things are possible,” Greer says. “Stories like this help us rediscover our own humanity. It was not easy for many soldiers to shoot at men who had become their friends — men they had exchanged gifts with and played sports with.”
From the point of view of their countries and commanders, the Christmas Truce was an act of disobedience, Jent says.
“Fighting was the norm, and the truce was the exception,” she says. “The story is told entirely through historical texts and songs — excerpts from diaries and letters, as well as songs that were sung by the soldiers. The music explores all the emotions: excitement, fear, loyalty, disappointment, boredom, sadness, hope and despair.”
Performances of All is Calm are slated for 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Nov. 5-7 at the Jack C. Taylor Assembly Hall at Soldiers Memorial Military Museum. Tickets for veterans and active military are free, $10 for the general public, $5 for Missouri Historical Society members, and $5 for children 12 and younger. Seating is limited. Advance reservations are recommended for both paid and free tickets.