Many Christmas carols speak about peace on earth, but rarely does it ever happen. One notable exception is the Christmas truce of 1914.
It started with a declaration by Pope Benedict XV that a temporary cease fire should be called in celebration of Christmas.
“Pope Benedict XV is urging that an understanding be arranged between the warring factions,” American newspapers said Dec. 8, “under which a truce will be possible during the Christmas holidays. It is said, however, that his holiness has little hope for the success of his efforts.”
Indeed, his plea fell on deaf ears. No nation made an official holiday truce.
On Christmas Eve, in various locations around the Western Front, Allied and German soldiers began singing Christmas carols.
The following morning, some Germans left the safety of their trenches and ventured across No Man’s Land shouting Christmas greetings. The Allies were nervous at first, but soon they also emerged from their trenches.
That day, the enemies engaged in conversation, joked, exchanged small gifts, sang together and buried their dead. There is also one documented case of a soccer game.
Silence Heard Around the World
So remarkable was the Christmas truce, it made headlines around the world.
“I have always been struck, and never more so than this Christmastide, with the large-hearted, tolerant attitude our men have adopted towards [sic] the German soldiers,” a correspondent for the London Guardian said.
“‘We only want to meet him and beat him on a purely sporting basis,’ said a non-commissioned officer to me this morning, and so saying epitomises the creed of his comrades in the field.
“Malice finds no place at all in the British military equipment, and that is why a season consecrated to goodwill and fellowship finds the hand and heart of the British soldier in sympathy with the Christmas spirit.”
The Truce’s Impact
Unfortunately, the event was never repeated. Even in 1914, it didn’t last long. In most locations, the truce lasted only until Dec. 26, but in a few locales, it lasted until New Year’s.
Hostilities began again, sometimes with decorum and by firing warning shots in the air. Within a short time, men began dying again on the Western Front, including many of the men who participated in the Christmas Truce.
The truce still fascinates us today.
“The Christmas truce is not the fiction it reads and sounds,” journalist David Arnold said in 1988. “Documented in diaries and personal letters shelved in the archives of the Imperial War Museum in London, the incident is as real as the bullets and gas that subsequently killed many of its participants.”
Updated: 20 October 2020