In December of 1914, bitter battles were fought in the trenches along the western front of World War I. The trenches were a horrific place, filled with mud and filth and decaying bodies, surrounded on all sides with exploding shells and gunshots and screaming men. However, on December 7th of that year, Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary hiatus of the war to honor the celebration of Christmas. The different authorities of each country refused, but their soldiers had a different opinion.
As the sun went down on Christmas Eve, the sounds of war gave way to silent night. Then the silence gave way to Christmas carols sung along the same melodies in different languages. Everyone knew the songs, whether they were German or Allied.
When the sun rose on Christmas Day, a few brave German souls clambered up out of their trenches and crossed the shell-strewn, barbed-wired no-man’s-land between the trenches and approached the Allied lines, yelling “Merry Christmas” in English. They picked their way across, avoiding mines, sliding under barbed wire, hoping that they wouldn’t be shot in the process. It was a massive gamble.
The Allies weren’t sure if it was some terrible trick or not, but when they looked up, the Germans were unarmed. They climbed out of their own trenches and began to shake hands with their previous enemies.
As hasty introductions were given and gifts of cigarettes and rations were shared, more Christmas carols filtered through the air. Some even started a game of soccer – a game that everyone universally understood. And while most were celebrating this holiday, others used the peace to gather their respective dead and bring them back to friendly lines.
When the day was done, each side returned to their own trenches. The day after Christmas, bitter fighting began again, and soldiers who had previously played soccer and exchanged gifts would fight against each other, and many would die.
The event was called the Christmas Truce of 1914. To many historians, it’s considered one of the last examples of chivalry between enemies during war.
The Christmas Truce was never again repeated. Even though some soldiers during later wars would talk of a Christmas Truce, such notions were quickly crushed by threats from higher-ups. Even though it never happened again, it stands as a reminder that even during wartime, we are still human, and even war doesn’t destroy the goodwill and peace on Earth that Christmas brings.