I watched the new Sainsbury’s Christmas ad last night. It beautifully recounts a moment in history that really says something about the nature of war and all those involved in it. I’m pretty cynical about those cutesy Christmas ads, but this one really is something else. It’s a tiny docudrama that tells the tale of two young soldiers, an Englishman and a German, who forge a brief friendship at Christmas and how the gift of giving is what Christmas is all about.
Of course there’s a gloss to it, it’s a little over-sentimentalised, but all the horror is still there and there’s no product placement, no cynical attempt to sell, sell, sell, based on the story that unfolds.
The First World War must have been so terrible for all those men in the trenches regardless of the side that they were fighting on. British, German, French, what difference did it make? They were all just men and boys caught up in something they had no control over and certainly didn’t have part in causing.
Men and boys away from home and loved ones, frightened and uncomfortable, lost in so many ways.
I guess most people were aware of the story of the Christmas no-man’s land truce before this new Sainsbury’s ad; a brief break in the fighting to play a game of football on Christmas Day. Most of these types of story are myths like the Mons Angel, but in this case it’s all true. All along those deep trenches of the Western Front back in 1914 men stopped firing at each other, sang carols together, met up, even played a game or two of football and became friends for a few brief hours.
Of course it was all unofficial, not sanctioned by the governments of any side involved and it wasn’t universal, some men kept shooting. It all depended on where on the front line you were. The following year the military forbade it, although some ignored the order and kept Christmas with each other still. But by the Christmas of 1917 the combination of orders from above and the sheer level of bloodiness and despair meant that the Christmas truce stopped happening and the killing went on despite the sanctity of the day. Such a shame, but then that whole war was a shame in the truest sense of the word.
Look, I could go on about how this advert is still selling Sainsbury’s brand. I could suggest that it’s just Sainsbury’s sticking it to John Lewis. I could argue that selling anything on the back of such a bloody conflict can’t possibly be right, even a pound bar of chocolate with all the profits going to the Royal British Legion. I could, but I won’t. The advert really got to me and I think most people will come away with the right message rather than the urge to dash to Sainsbury’s to buy overly expensive goods.
I hate to say it, but I admire Sainsbury’s a little for doing this.