Calling the song that is the subject of this post a “Hymn of Social Justice” may be stretching definitions a wee bit, but in the Spirit of Christmas I am going to stretch. One of my family’s favorite traditions for celebrating the Advent season is to share our favorite Christmas stories each night from December 1st to the 24th. One of the stories that I love the most is the story of the Christmas Truce of 1914 that took place between German and British troops along the Western Front during the early days of World War I.
The very most basic version of the story is that on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day of 1914 British and German soldiers put down their guns, walked out into “No Man’s Land”, and celebrated the holiday together. They sang hymns, exchanged gifts, shared drinks, and buried their dead. The story is one of my favorites because it is such a powerful reminder that most wars are started and orchestrated by the rich and powerful class but fought with the blood of the common class. If the soldiers could just be persuaded to put down their guns and refuse to fight many if not most wars might just end. I recognize that there are times where people must legitimately fight for their freedom and defend their homes and loved ones from those who would oppress them and do them harm. But most wars are not that type and World War I was a war about greed and power and not about defending freedom. How different the history of the world would be if World War I ended on December 25th of 1914.
And now the song. In 1966 A novelty Rock and Roll group from Florida called “The Royal Guardsmen” released a song called “Snoopy versus the Red Baron.” The song tells the story of how the Red Baron was cutting down the allied fighter pilots, “80 tired, and 80 men died,” until, “a funny looking dog, with a big black nose” proved to be the Baron’s match. At the end of the song the Red Baron goes down in flames and Snoopy has saved the day.
In 1967 in time for Christmas the Guardsmen revisited the the story of Snoopy and the Red Baron in a song simply titled “Snoopy’s Christmas.” As the song starts it is, “the night before Christmas and 40 below,” the Red Baron is flying again and Snoopy is called on to stop him. This time however Snoopy has, “ice on his wings” and soon finds himself in the Baron’s sights. BUT, just as the Baron is about to pull the trigger, the Christmas bells begin to ring in the village below. So instead of shooting Snoopy down, the Baron forces him to fly to the Rhine, and land behind the enemy lines. Just when Snoopy becomes “certain that this was the end…the Baron crie(s) out Merry Christmas, mein friend!'” In their own, fun way, the Royal Guardsmen remind us of the lesson of 1914 and just how close peace and social justice can be in times of killing and hate. It is one of my family’s favorite songs, it is one of the few songs that we can play continually through out the season without tiring of it. I hope that you enjoy it.