During World War I, in the bitter winter of 1914, on the battlefields of Flanders, one of the most unusual events in all of human history took place. The Germans had been in a fierce battle with the British and French. Both sides were dug in, safe in muddy, man-made trenches six to eight feet deep that seemed to stretch forever.
The Sudden Christmas Truce During World War I
All of a sudden, German troops began to put small Christmas trees, lit with candles, outside of their trenches. Then, they began to sing songs. Across the way, in the “no man’s land” between them came songs from the British and French troops. Incredibly, many of the Germans, who had worked in England before the war, were able to speak good enough English to propose a “Christmas” truce.
A Spontaneous Truce Resulted
A spontaneous truce resulted. Soldiers left their trenches, meeting in the middle in fortified trenches to shake hands. The first order of business was to bury the dead who had been previously unreachable because of the conflict. Then, they exchanged gifts: chocolate cake, cognac, postcards, newspapers, tobacco. In a few places, along the trenches, soldiers exchanged rifles for soccer balls and began to play soccer in the snow.
According to Stanley Weintraub, who wrote about this event in his book, “Silent Night,” “Signboards arose up and down the trenches in a variety of shapes. They were usually in English, or – from the Germans – in fractured English. Rightly, the Germans assumed that the other side could not read traditional gothic lettering and that few English understood spoken German. ‘YOU NO FIGHT, WE NO FIGHT’ was the most frequently employed German message. Some British units improvised ‘MERRY CHRISTMAS’ banners and waited for a response. More placards on both sides popped up.”
Rare photo shows German soldiers of the 134th Saxon Regiment and British soldiers of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment meeting in “no man’s land” on December 26, 1914.
Sadly, the Christmas Truce didn’t Last Long
Its truce didn’t last forever. In fact, some of the generals didn’t like it at all and commanded their troops to resume shooting at each other. After all, they were in a war. Soldiers eventually did resume shooting at each other. But for a few precious moments, there was peace on earth goodwill toward men. There’s something about Christmas that changes people. It happened over 2000 years ago in a little town called Bethlehem. It’s been happening over and over again down through the years of time.
Although the Christmas Truce of 1914 may seem like a distant myth to those now at arms in parts of the world where vast cultural differences between combatants make such an occurrence impossible, it remains a symbol of hope to those who believe that a recognition of our common humanity may someday reverse the maxim that “Peace is harder to make than war.”
A reenactment on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWF2JBb1bvM