During the first year of World War 1, the Great War raged on the Western Front. On a specific strip of land – not more than 100 feet wide in places – were trenches where soldiers were engaged in battle. The British, Belgian, and French were on one side and the Germans on the other.
On Christmas Eve 1914, both sides put down their rifles. Pope Benedict XV had called for a Christmas truce, but his efforts fell on deaf ears. Unlike today’s news coverage showing specific locations predicting the next military move, this event’s report came from oral accounts, daily journals, and letters written to families at home. It’s difficult to know exact details that started it all on that moonlit Christmas Eve but from a document in the New York Times, Graham Williams of the Fifth London Rifle Brigade described it in great detail:
“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 a most extraordinary thing – two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.”
The next morning, German soldiers emerged from their trenches, calling out ‘Merry Christmas’ in English. Allied soldiers cautiously came out to greet them. German soldiers held up signs reading. “You no shoot, we no shoot.”
The troops exchanged gifts of cigarettes, food, buttons, and hats. Both buried their dead in this narrow strip called “no man’s land.” The truce was not universal. In other places, the firing continued.
While there were occasional times of peace throughout the rest of World War 1, none was on the scale of the Christmas Truce of 1914.
More than 100 years later, the Christmas truce is a testament to the power of hope and humanity in a dark hour of history, symbolizing a human desire for peace across the globe.