The Christmas Truce of 1914-
The "great war" had been raging for nearly five months when Christmastime
rolled around. For the soldiers on the front lines, their homes were deep
trenches cut into the ground, filled with knee-deep sticky mud. Many soldiers
on both sides of the battle lines were covered with it from head to toe.
Soldiers had to keep their heads low, because at all times the enemy snipers
were watching, and would shoot at anything that appeared in their scope. The
closer to Christmas it got, the more sporadic the rifle fire became, as if on both
sides, they were simply ready for a break. On Christmas Eve. 1914 the first
hard freeze settled over the ground, which was welcomed by the soldiers
because at last the mud was solid.
Thoughts of the soldiers turned to their families, tucked away safely in their
beds. The soldiers settled down in their bunks with letters from their loved
ones, pictures, and if they were lucky, gifts. While the cold air blew in around
them, they turned their faces into their coats, and tried to sleep.
In the early morning hours of December 25, a thick mist settled around them.
It was hard to see from one side of "No Man's Land" to the other. Suddenly a
chorus of song broke the silence of the morning, and drifted up from the German
trenches across the way. The startled allies were amazed to discover when
they peeked their heads up to look, that the Germans had erected dozens of
Christmas trees in their trenches, and had even decorated them. They listened
in silence as the Germans sang "Silent Night." Stille nacht, heilige nacht…
When the voices concluded and echoed away, applause rang out from the allies.
The German singing had been lovely. The allies began a song of their own, and on
through the night the soldiers from either side of the battlefield sang together.
When dawn broke, the Germans called out to the allies, "Come over!" The allies
responded, "You first!" and tentatively, officers from either side walked out
over "No Man's Land," to greet each other. A ceasefire was called, and soldiers
from both sides rose out of their trenches to meet these people whom they had
just been trying to kill. Some of the people could communicate with words, but
others who did not know the other side's language made themselves understood
as they gave each other gifts of cigarettes, clothing and food. They shared
photographs of their families, and called each other "friend" for the rest of the
day. They built bonfires which glowed well into the night.
Finally the long dreaded moment had come- time for each side to return to their
trenches. The soldiers said goodbye to their new friends, and sank down into
their muddy holes. With a heavy heart, the firing began again, and the war
continued for four more years.
You may ask, why have I told such a sad story? What good is the Christmas
spirit if it only lasts such a short while? I think that it is important to remember
that in the midst of all that death and chaos, the Christmas spirit was still able
to reach down into the darkest pit and lift the soldiers out. The Christmas spirit
has another name- Hope. It needs nothing more to survive on its own than a
beating heart, and a song to sing.
Spread hope around you this Christmas. Hug and kiss your family, send a gift to
a soldier overseas, give blood. The real magic of Christmas is always inside of
you. Share the magic.
Additional WWI Background-
On June 28, 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, was assassinated with his wife
Sophie by a Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Tensions were already high between
the two countries due to border disputes. Austria-Hungary began to seriously consider sending a
message to the Serbs by attacking them. Germany lent their support to Austria-Hungary.
Great Britain formally declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary on August 4, 1914.
Subsequently Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Canada declared war on Germany. By this time,
nearly every country involved was fully mobilized and its troops placed in strategic defensive places.
Millions of men from various countries found themselves at the ready.
It was assumed that the war would be over by Christmas, but unknown to everyone, the war had
only just begun.
Italy and Romania declared war on Germany in 1916, and in 1917 the United States, China and Cuba
followed suit. Never had a war been fought on so many fronts and involved so many people. By its
end in late 1918, millions were dead and the European continent had been reduced to rubble. Little
did the world know, that they would repeat it all with even more dead in just a few short years in
World War II.
The Christmas truce was not an isolated incident. All along the battle lines,
ceasefire was called by soldiers similar to the ones in the story above. Sometimes
the truce lasted all the way until Boxing Day (Jan.6).