To add a bit of holiday spirit to this post, I will end with a Civil War Christmas scene from my co-authored middle-grade novel, Broken Drum (AKA Drums of War in the Scholastic edition). I imagine the emotions of the Civil War soldiers are still the same fears, hopes, and longings of today's soldiers far from home and wishing for peace.
As midnight approached, the camp was ablaze with Christmas bonfires. The men gathered near enough to be warmed by the flames. Shadows and light fell across the faces of all, from the young boys of the drum corps to the older men with gray beards. They talked of home and family and wondered aloud if the Christmas of 1861 would be their last.
One of the old timers, Jacob Adams, the bearded man who had talked to Charley the first day about seeing an elephant, brought out his fiddle. He played familiar melody after melody, both cheery and mournful. Some of the men joined in with harmonicas, and when Patrick brought out his fife, Sergeant O'Toole was coaxed into dancing an Irish jig. He seemed to grow wings on his feet. O'Toole, with his broad frame, leapt and stamped the ground in perfect rhythm. His shadow, now looming large, now becoming small, fell across the amazed boys of the drum corps. Their sergeant twirled and stamped in time with the lilting, mystical music of the fife and fiddle in a timeless dance.
At midnight the camps burst into celebration. Men shot guns into the sky, and buglers and drummers heralded the arrival of Christmas Day. After much cheering, handshaking, and back slapping, the camp grew more silent. Jacob Adams in his baritone began to sing "Silent night, holy night." The others joined in, "All is calm, all is bright..." Charley could hear another camp singing a few bars behind, almost like a round. Camp after camp took up the song until the whole night was filled with the reverent sound of men's voices. Vibrating the very ground beneath their feet, voices rose with the sparks from the fires into the night air, reverberating across the fields and woods into the town, so that people came out of their houses to listen. "Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace."
When the last notes faded, it truly became a silent night. Each man sat with his own thoughts. Charley was aware of a muffled sob coming from the shadows behind him. In the dim light he saw Frank Simpson, huddled alone, wipe his hand across his eyes.