Next year marks the 100th Anniversary of the United States entering World War I. In 1914, during the first Christmas of the war, America maintained neutrality. As German, British and French forces faced each other on the battlefield, the most poignant event of the war happened.
On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV called for a Christmas truce. Unfortunately, the military leaders could not, or would not, reach an agreement. However, that did not stop the troops for doing their own.
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That Christmas Eve, the temperatures fell around freezing. Both the Germans and the British did all they could to stay warm in their trenches. The war had only been going on for a few months, but it was shaping up to be one of the bloodiest. Regardless, the men were still yet war weary.
Family members sent packages of goodies to keep their loved ones’ moral high during the wet, cold holiday. Items such as candy, food, cigarettes, and clothing, along with precious letters and photos from home, brightened spirits on both sides.
Out of the darkness, harmonizing voices rose above the muddy, uncomfortable trenches. German soldiers celebrated the holy night with carols and hymns. At first the British suspected a trick. Before long, they realized the spirit of the moment and they began to sing along. After one side finished a treasured piece, the other side would reciprocate. Soldiers later describe occasions when both sides would sing simultaneously in their respective languages.
Pvt. Albert Moren of the Second Queens Regiment stated:
“It was a beautiful moonlit night, frost on the ground, white almost everywhere; and about 7 or 8 in the evening there was a lot of commotion in the German trenches and there were these lights -I don’t know what they were. And then they sang ‘Silent Night’ – ‘Stille Nacht.’ I shall never forget it, it was one of the highlights of my life. I thought, what a beautiful tune.”
Rifleman Graham Williams of the Fifth London Rifle Brigade added:
“Then suddenly lights began to appear along the German parapet, which were evidently make-shift Christmas trees, adorned with lighted candles, which burnt steadily in the still, frosty air! … First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up “O Come, All Ye Faithful” the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing – two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.”
The next morning, a brave soul feeling the Christmas spirit slowly climbed his way out of his trench with empty hands. The enemy waited to see what would happen and refrained from shooting. Eventually, men on both sides left the safety of their hiding places to meet the enemy in “No Man’s Land”.
Several veterans recounted stories of a ball appearing. Whether a true game of English football followed, or just a bunch of young men kicking a ball around, for a moment all forgot about killing each other. They exchanged cigarettes and holiday treats, finding camaraderie with their enemy if at least for just a short while.
Others took the suspension of hostilities to bury their brothers who fell in “No Man’s Land”. In some cases, they even assisted their foes. For the day, they were not adversaries, but fellow human beings.
Over the years, many have paid tribute to this historical event through music and other media. Paul McCartney salutes the truce as the storyline to his 1983 “Pipes of Peace” music video. He even includes the famous football game.
Garth Brooks’ “Belleau Wood” tenderly recounts the events of that fateful Christmas in 1914 with one minor note. Truces occurred all along the Western Front that Christmas. However, the inspiration for the story traces back to Ypres, Belgium. Brooks most likely decided Belleau Wood, France, sounded better than Ypres Salient for such an heartfelt song.
Tradition holds that the truce of 1914 was the only real time of widespread soldier interaction between enemy divisions. As the war went on, more destruction occurred. It became harder to put aside such animosity even for a day. Plus, the commanders on both sides strongly disapproved of connecting with men you were expected to kill.
Regardless, some World War I veterans recalled similar experiences in 1915 which inspired Celtic Thunder’s “Christmas 1915”. Their emotional portrayal of that day perfectly crystalizes the feelings of what the soldiers must have experienced, before again reminding us of the realities of war.
Even the UK-based company Sainsbury’s commemorated the 100th Anniversary of the 1914 truce in a 2014 commercial.
Back in a time when men still revered Christmas as the birth of Christ, the soldiers took a day to show Christian friendship to their foes. Underneath, no matter our race, creed, color, or nationality, our hearts all break, our tears are all wet and our blood all runs red.
As children of God, we are all family. This Christmas, can we find the strength to put our political opinions and agendas aside if even for just a moment? Can we for one day, show we still have a little humanity left in our partisan hearts? Maybe go outside for a friendly game of football. Possibly share photos of loved ones as well as our favorite Christmas treats. Even if it’s just to prove to ourselves we still have a soul.
Let’s not lose the true meaning of Christmas because of our own, personal wars.
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). Matt 1:23
“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” Luke 2:6-7
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
God Bless you all and have a very, Merry Christmas.
But that’s just my 2 cents.