I have hung the Earth in my Christmas tree. You too? We only have one! © Photo montage Guide Meeus.

Silent Night …

Co-chair Jan Stel: “Christmas is approaching again. Our plastic Christmas tree has briefly reappeared from the cellar of my apartment in Puurs, Belgium. It stands with LED lights like glow worms, gleaming in the cold living room. We are cutting back on heating. In our St Peter’s Church just across the street, there is a performance by the local choir tonight. This will be followed by the Christmas Eve mass with drinks afterwards. The village is festively lit up. Christmas is a time of reflection, of melancholy, of loss and of hope.

Silent night, holy night

I am not a religious person. Still, that beautiful Christmas song from 1818 sends shivers down my spine. It was composed by Austrian Franz Xaver Gruber in German, the performance I like best. In 2011, this popular Christmas song, which has been translated into many languages, was declared a cultural heritage by UNESCO. For me, it is eminently a song of hope in a literally, but now again figuratively, dark time.”

Co-chair Godela von Kirchbach: “I am a religious person. So, Christmas is not a melancholic time for me but one of hope and love. It shows that miracles can always happen. In my lifetime, the fall of the Wall and German reunification were such miracles. We should not forget this possibility. Let us hope that the results of COP28 that can be viewed ambiguously turn out to be more effective than we may fear. Christmas also connects us with Christianity throughout the millennia. It reminds us that we are only a link in a long chain and obliges us towards our forebears and the generations after us.”

People have celebrated Christmas under very different conditions but always with hope and mostly with joy.

Touching and bizarre is the story of German and British soldiers crawling out of the trenches of swampy Flanders Fields on Christmas Eve 1914. Together they were singing carols in the no man’s land; in a human made hell. For a brief moment, it was Alle Menschen werden Brüder, from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The text sung is the poem Ode an die Freude (Ode to Joy) by Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805). It paints a picture of an ideal world, where all people live together as brothers. It has been chosen as the official anthem of the European Union since 1985. It is a signal of hope.

Perhaps they also sang, depending of their background, Stille Nacht or Silent Night. For a moment, the raw reality of the insane war driven by group behaviour and ideology, was forgotten by them. But not their officers. For a moment, these people were human again. For a moment the weapons fell silent. Then the slaughter began again…

Scientific research shows that the oldest signs of wars are found in Sudan over 8000 years ago. Yet, today there are wars in Sudan too, as well as in Ukraine and in densely populated Gaza, etc… Why don’t we learn from the peaceful message of Silent Night?

Caring is part of the genetic and social make-up of the human species

Psychological research has shown that doing good to others enhances one’s own happiness because we are profoundly social beings and need a sense of connection with others. On the other hand, we also have the drive to hold our own and look out for our own good. These two instincts are in constant conflict within us. Sometimes the one has the upper hand, sometimes the other. The more we perceive the other as “other”, the less empathic and social we tend to be.

It is a promising idea that the signals, showing that we are caring for each other are much older. But even this caring could get out of hand. This is demonstrated by the at least 53,000 year old traces of cannibalism among our Neanderthal cousins living in Spain. Driven by hunger one group was eating the other one to survive, according to the well-known palaeoanthropologist Erik Trinkaus.

Traces of real caring go back almost 1.7 million years, and are found among our deep time “grandparents”: Homo erectus georgicus. Here, scientists found deep in a Medieval well, a skull of an about 40 years old grandparent with only one proud tooth left. Yet, he still survived for several years, signalling that he was taken care of by his family. This also is a signal of hope for humanity.

Silent future?

After two years of preparation, we finally met in Brussels from Thursday 30 November till Sunday 3 December to conclude the transformation process of our European Grandparents for Climate, EGC. The transition process went by the book in retrospect. A small frontrunner group chaired by Godela was formed, formulated the Mission Statement and founded the association as an Austrian Verein. Of course, along the road there were disagreements, some scepticism and the traditional opposition. But at the end it’s the opinion of the big middle group that makes the difference. And it did!

After two years and ten virtual meetings, in which we just were ‘talking pictures’ on a PC screen, the Dutch acting chairman Philip Beekman, guided us through these first moments. During the meeting with the MEPs, on Thursday morning, the spark struck and we became a team. During the afternoon the new structure was unanimously accepted and an Executive Board was elected. The next day Godela formed new working groups, which immediately started to work. After the successful Antwerp Day, during which promising projects were presented and discussed, and the March in Brussels, we all returned home full of new ideas, highly motivated and with a team spirit. Let us remember these feelings of hope and of being united even when we are separated by long distances again. We do not want a silent future!

We do not want a world full of man-made, artificial plastic trees sucking CO2 from the air at a price ten times more than the one of natural (bio) trees of the living world. We do not want solar shields in space to save us from OUR climate change, which might doom biodiversity when they collapse.

We do not want to fertilize the ocean to store even more CO2 pollution by human activities. We do not want geo-engineering as the effects on the Earth system and its subsystems are unknown and dangerous. We want a future for the next generation in a natural and sustainable world.

We wish you a Merry Christmas a prosperous 2024, and lots of joint and successful activities!

Godela von Kirchbach, Vienna, Austria

Jan Stel, Puurs, Belgium