On December 24, 1914, tens of thousands of enemy soldiers along the western front spontaneously laid down their weapons and celebrated Christmas together. How could such a thing, that stunned the high commands of the rival armies, possibly happen? And how could the soldiers possibly have resumed killing each other the very next day? Are feasts not a prerogative of communities and therefore impossible among enemies? Other historical instances of implausible feasts, even in lagers and gulags, leads the author to wonder if "normal" celebrations need to be re-evaluated, in order to discover that human sociality implies being together, respecting time and rhythm, in ways that are particularly intense in certain circumstances. Making merry is more than a useless folk behaviour; it has evolutionary origins, as shown by the social life of primates, and transposes vital one-on-one relationships - mother-and-child, between lovers, between friends - onto wider society. Carefully avoiding excessively academic language, this remarkable book draws on anthropology, ethology, neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, musicology, and especially literature, because writers often see farther and better than others.
Paolo Apolito teaches Cultural Anthropology at the Third University of Rome.