The Christmas Truce of 1914 is a strange yet heartwarming tale of humanity and the desire for peace regardless of belief.
Over a century ago, hostilities and violence stopped during World War I. On Christmas Eve of 1914, German and Allied troops put the war on pause and shared precious moments of singing, sharing stories, exchanging gifts, and enjoying a temporary camaraderie with the enemy.
Arms were put aside, defenses were down. Enemy soldiers emerged from the trenches singing Christmas carols and exchanging pleasantries with men they were trying to kill just hours before.
Europe went into war in the summer of 1914 believing that it will be over and done with come Christmas time of that year. Little did they know that the fighting would be fierce and that each side will not relinquish control of their respective territories.
The result was a bloody stalemate along the Western Front, where the fighting was the fiercest and heaviest.
A few weeks before Christmas Eve, Pope Benedict XV, who at the time just recently became pope, made a plea for a truce in light of the season. He was hoping that during the proposed ceasefire, the warring parties could work out their differences and put the war to an end. However, both sides declined and the war ensued.
When World War I Was Put on Pause
In the thick of war, on Christmas Eve of 1914, around 10:00 at night, the men of the British Expeditionary Force heard the German forces singing across the trenches. They listened a bit closer and noticed that the enemy was singing Christmas carols. They then started singing out loud and the two camps exchanged singing songs to each other.
At the break of Christmas dawn, both sides nervously climbed out of their trenches and met halfway on No Man’s Land. Typically, the only exchange between the two warring parties is with bullets and grenades.
What happened next would make history and stun the whole world. They then continued to sing and even gave each other “gifts” by exchanging goods. They all told stories of their lives, how they ended up in the war, and told each other about the families and loved ones they left behind.
Some soldiers told stories of courting and buying wedding rings for the nurses they are enamored with back home, about how they are looking forward to marrying them and spending a lifetime of peace and quiet, not one of war and chaos.
Although the unofficial truce was not fully observed on the entire Western Front, a good two-thirds of the line laid down their weapons and let their guns fall silent. They took pictures with each other, enjoying each other’s companies. Several written accounts even say that both sides enjoyed playing football (soccer) together.
One British machine gunner recounts that on that day, at that moment, “there was not an atom of hate on either side.” A British rifleman also told stories of how they exchanged bottles of drinks on Christmas morning. He goes on to say no shots were fired that day. It was like a dream. Another British soldier also said that they were laughing and drinking with the men whom they were trying to kill only a few hours before.
While the war resumed the day after, it was a truly surreal experience for those who lived through it and enjoyed that moment. It is a tale of man’s desire for peace, love, and unity. A tale that says even war cannot destroy the Christmas spirit.