Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)

I recently returned from visiting our troops in Afghanistan; what an amazing band of brothers – and sisters.  The men and women wearing the uniform of the United States Military are of outstanding character and represent the best of America.  Once again this holiday season, I took with me handmade cards from school children across the Second Congressional District.  This year we collected over 11,000 cards! 

With the help of Pittney Bowes and the Red Cross’ Holiday Cards for Heroes campaign we were able to send the rest of the cards on to our troops serving around the world.  This is the third year that I have had the opportunity to personally deliver Christmas and holiday cards to our troops and I have to say it is just as special as the first.  I don’t have the words to explain to you how much of an impact this has on these rough and tumble men and women.  Although it is a tradition we would rather not have to observe, it is one that means a great deal to those that serve.

While it was not the first time soldiers were at battle during Christmas, it was the War Between the States that cemented the tradition of sending well wishes to the front lines.  Christmas cards first became popular during this era.  However, supplies were in high demand and Christmas boxes, rather than cards, were the tradition of the times.

Commissioned by Harper’s Bazaar, Thomas Nast illustrated the angst of soldiers and their families in a worn-torn country at Christmas time for the cover of the widely popular political magazine. He documented American traditions, like gift-giving, caroling, feasting and soldiers on the front lines receiving Christmas boxes. 

And it was during the War, that Nast is credited with creating the image of Santa Claus as we know him to be today.  He was featured on the cover in 1862 celebrating with Union soldiers. And in effort to make sure that no one else, particularly the South, tried to lay claim to Santa, Nash made his official address the North Pole.  President Abraham Lincoln called Santa “the best recruiting sergeant the North ever had.”

By the winter of 1864, the South had suffered greatly at the hands of General Sherman.  Very little was spared from total and complete annihilation and the traditional Christmas boxes sent to the front were filled with any type of food or clothing that could be found.  On December 21, 1864, after leaving behind a 300 mile long path of destruction 60 miles wide all the way from Atlanta, Sherman telegraphed President Lincoln offering him Savannah for Christmas.

During World War I, a different kind of present was offered on the Western Front.  On Christmas Eve, both German and British armies laid down their arms and sang Christmas carols from the trenches.  What was thought to be a ploy at first, later became known as the Christmas Truce of 1914.  It is said that soldiers met on the battlefield and exchanged Christmas wishes and gifts such as cigarettes.  There was even said to be a game of soccer played in no-man’s land.  And, both sides used this rare opportunity of a cease-fire to retrieve the bodies of their comrades from the battlefield.   This Christmas gesture was never repeated again.

War at Christmas is not new and this year will be no exception.  History shows us that the sacrifices and struggles for those that serve their country and the families they leave behind remain the same.  While it is important that we remember that everyday is a sacrifice for them, the holidays are particularly hard because of the traditions of family, faith and togetherness we celebrate.  I encourage you to remember the families in our community that are left behind this year.  It is because of their loved ones serving a world away that we get to be at home safe with ours.  

And that’s just the way it is.