As the political divide continues to grow, and Right and Left seem further apart than ever, it seemed fitting in the spirit of the season to remember a time of even greater strife and a Christmas miracle that brought two opposing sides together, if only for a moment.
Aubrey Gulick of The Federalist and the History Channel share the story of Christmas Eve 1914, in “the dank, muddy trenches on the Western Front of the first world war.”
It is remembered in history as the Christmas Truce, “one of the most storied and strangest moments of the Great War—or of any war in history.”
The story recalls the Christmas of 1914. The short war the soldiers had been promised showed no signs of abating, and by Christmas, young men on both sides of the war were tired, cold and longing for home.
British machine gunner Bruce Bairnsfather wrote in his memoirs of being “…miles and miles from home. Cold, wet through and covered with mud.” And then, across the field, he heard voices. The Germans were singing carols.
In different parts of the countryside, enemy soldiers began to climb out of their trenches to meet in the barbed-wire-filled “No Man’s Land” that separated the armies. Instead of trading bullets, the men shared tobacco and wine and displayed kindness to each other.
Rifleman J. Reading wrote: “We shook hands with some of them, and they gave us cigarettes and cigars. We did not fire that day, and everything was so quiet it seemed like a dream.”
The Christmas Truce between Britain and Germany (1914) allowed them to place down their weapons and play a game or two of football. Many of the soldiers ventured onto “no man’s land” to chat with one another or to share food and souvenirs during the unofficial ceasefire. pic.twitter.com/4vmqPTIuSc
— 🌼_ (@rebeca6169) December 23, 2022
A lance corporal wrote of his experience on watch at 1 a.m. on Christmas morning: “I was on look-out duty, and one of the Germans wished me Good morning and a Merry Christmas. I was never more surprised in my life when daylight came to see them all sitting on top of the trenches waving their hands and singing to us.”
Another soldier’s letter, published in The Carlisle Journal on Jan. 8, 1915, recalls that “the regiment actually had a football match with the Germans.”
On Christmas Day 1914: Allied & German soldiers put down their weapons in a 1day ceasefire truce to play a game of football.
Humanity won. pic.twitter.com/d24y7BZB05
— Coach Zem (@CoachZem) December 25, 2016
Other accounts describe scenes of men helping enemy soldiers collect their dead. Still other stories tell of soldiers lighting candles around make-shift Christmas trees.
A Belgian soldier writes in his account, “The recollection of it will ever be one of imperishable beauty. At midnight a baritone stood up and, in a rich, resonant voice, sang, ‘Minuit Chretiens.’ The cannonade ceased, and when the hymn finished, applause broke out from our side and from the German trenches.”
All across the Western Front and some parts of the Eastern Front that Christmas, French, German, Belgian and British troops put aside their enmity for just a little while as they celebrated the birth of the King, who was born to bring peace on earth and goodwill to all.