Sainsbury’s, a British grocery chain has released a Christmas TV commercial that has gone viral, set during the First World War, showing the Christmas Day truce which occurred along some parts of the front in 1914. The ad is part of the store’s campaign to raise money for a British veteran’s organization, the British Legion and uses the tagline, ‘Christmas is for Sharing.’
Though the response has been largely positive, the ad is not without its’ critics. Many formal complaints have been lodged with the British Advertising Standards Authority, including one form a Church of England Cleric, The Rev Nicholas Clews as reported by the Church Times
The Revd Nicholas Clews, Priest-in-Charge at St Margaret of Antioch, Thornbury, and St James the Great, Woodhall, in the diocese of Bradford, lodged a formal protest with the Advertising Standards Authority “within ten minutes” of seeing the TV commercial. It is based on a truce that took place at Christmas, 1914, when British and German troops fraternised briefly in no man’s land.
The long advert (it lasts three minutes, 41 seconds) ends with a young Tommy slipping a chocolate bar he has only just received from home into the pocket of an equally fresh-faced German. The final shot is the caption “Christmas is for Sharing”, and then “Sainsbury’s”. Similar chocolate bars are on sale in Sainsbury’s, with half of the £1 price going to the Royal British Legion.
Mr Clews said: “I think it trivialises the suffering of World War One, and in many ways misses the point about the significance of what happened on Christmas Day 1914 [which] was that a chance for peace was missed. It’s a tragedy. For a day: those soldiers realised they were human beings, and they shared that humanity. That’s a tremendous message for Christmas; but the significance of Christmas is that it’s not about a day, it’s about life.”
The First World War looms large in the British cultural imagination, as evidenced by the recent display of ceramic poppies surrounding the Tower of London for Remembrance Day, where over 800,000 ceramic poppies were installed, one for every WW1 death of a British soldier. But, as moving as the ad is, does it trivialize the event it depicts as Clews and others suggest? The First World War is arguably the most significant disruption in Western culture in the past 500 hundred years.
When we sentimentalize the brief moments of grace in the midst of tragedy, does that in some way obscure the tragedy to the point where we no longer see it? Perhaps something similar is at work in the way we remember the story of Christ? Do we tend only to see the beatific child in the manger and miss the man to die on the cross that child is called to be?