Nearly one hundred years ago today, in the midst of the first months of a brutal world war that would claim the lives of millions across the globe, enemies from powerful armies came together, sang Christmas carols, and purportedly even played ball.
The extension of peace started on Christmas Eve 1914. German and British troops sang to each other across the war-torn No Man’s Land, a bombed-out stretch of barbed wire-tangled space that separated the trenches of the opposing sides. German soldiers placed Christmas trees illuminated by lanterns above the trenches. Men called out to each other and exchanged Christmas greetings.
On Christmas morning, Allied and German soldiers crept out of their respective trenches, met each other in the middle, shook hands, and traded cigarettes and food. The dead were fetched from No Man’s Land and taken away for proper burials. Conversations were exchanged. No shots were fired.
Not all regions of the war celebrated the truce. War-related deaths continued to occur on December 25, 1914, but several truces occurred across the Western Front in a moving moment that’s now been celebrated in films, books, documentaries, plays, and even a 2014 British grocery store commercial.
The truce didn’t end the Great War. The goodwill spread among the opposing armed forces on that remarkable day would not be repeated during the following three Christmases spent at war. Yet the beauty of the camaraderie between these enemies—the sheer joy experienced by people moved by the holiday spirit—proves that no matter how horrific our history may be at times, joy and hope will never cease to exist.
More info about the Christmas Truce:
ChristmasTruce.co.uk (includes letters from soldiers who participated)
Shooting at the Stars, by John Hendrix (a new picture book about the truce)
Trailer for The Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2014 performance of The Christmas Truce.
The 2014 Sainsbury grocery store advertisement celebrating the truce.
The trailer for Joyeux Noel, a 2005 movie made about the truce.