British Christmas ads are a highly anticipated event throughout the country. Last year, no one thought anyone could trump John Lewis’s darling penguin. In a surprising turn, Sainsbury’s took the lead with a story from a cold Christmas Day in 1914.
In the 2014 Sainsbury’s holiday advertising campaign, the brave men of the Great War made a comeback on television screens across Britain. The advertisement shows men on opposing sides coming together over the Christmas holiday. On Christmas Day, they laid down their weapons, exchanged gifts and even played football.
Few people are used to seeing truth in advertising. But this story is so good that no one could make it up. The nation was shocked to discover that the ad was based on a true story. The retailer loved the story so much that it worked together with a war historian to recreate the scene as accurately as possible. The Royal British Legion also got involved to add authenticity to the video.
The British and the German soldiers had fired shots at each other only the day before. As the story goes, on Christmas Day, a British soldier looks up as the Germans begin a rendition of “Silent Night”. The British soldier then carefully climbs out of his trench and into “no man’s land”. He is then joined by other soldiers from both sides.
The soldiers play a game of football. A British soldier secretly gave a gift to a German soldier, slipping it into his pocket. When the German soldier returns to his trench, he finds a chocolate bar.
Sainsbury’s worked with relatives of soldiers who were there that day to add a fuller narrative to the story. Andrew Hamilton, grandson of Captain Robert Hamilton, allowed Sainsbury’s to access his grandfather’s diaries. The diaries revealed that Captain Hamilton made contact with two German soldiers just before dawn. This was the beginning of the Christmas gift heard around the world.
The advertisement was not unprecedented. Last year marked the 100th anniversary of the start of the war. Earlier in 2014, the moat of the Tower of London hosted thousands of bright red ceramic poppies. This event also commemorated the anniversary of the war. During the few months that it was on display, millions of people flocked to the Tower of London to see it.
Sainsbury’s has also enjoyed a 20-year long partnership with the Royal British Legion and offers a variety of discounts for veterans. This campaign was important to everyone involved. The advertisement was made to honor the men who lost their lives during World War I. But it does so much more than that. It also serves as a reminder of what the holiday season is all about.
So many people think only of the gifts they will give and receive. They think of the food they will eat. They think of the shopping they will do and the bargains they will find, whether it’s buying a cell phone booster on Cyber Monday or the latest Apple gadget. Some think of the family members they miss and those they would rather not be seeing again.
But the story of a war time Christmas, so beautifully illustrated by Sainsbury’s, suggests that people are capable of so much more.
It drew people’s hearts away from John Lewis’s penguin because it was a perfect illustration of how good people can be. Even in the middle of one of the bloodiest wars in history, groups of men could come together to celebrate life.
Christmas is one of the most powerful times of the year. It can make mortal enemies, who do not even speak the same language, forget their politics and their countries and come together, even if only for a day.
Featured photo credit: Christmas Day Truce 1914/Smabs Sputzer via flickr.com