This holiday season marks the 100th anniversary of the legendary Christmas Truce during World War I.
On Christmas Eve of 1914 and the following day, an amazing thing happened along the Western Front. The rank-and-file soldiers spontaneously arranged informal cease-fires with enemy soldiers in the trenches opposite them and, in many cases, met in the No Man’s Land between the trenches to socialize with each other, singing carols, exchanging small gifts, and burying the dead (and in some instances, even playing soccer or taking photographs together). While these impromptu truces by no means involved the entire Western Front, they were widespread, especially between German and British soldiers (though in a few places French and Belgian troops as well).
Reports of these spur-of-the moment cease-fires didn’t hit the newspapers until December 31, but once the news broke, stories of the individual Christmas truces began appearing in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic. Perhaps one of the more surprising discoveries to come out of the Christmas truces, both for the Allied soldiers and newspaper readers back home, was that despite stories of German atrocities, the enemy soldiers in the trenches were just as human as they were. “The Germans opposite were awfully decent fellows [. . .] intelligent, respectable looking men,” reported one soldier. “I really think a lot of our newspaper reports must be horribly exaggerated.”
Not everyone supported the truces, however. High-ranking officers on both sides frowned down on the truces once they heard about them but were largely unable to stop them. Some lower-ranking soldiers disapproved as well, such as one who, upon returning to the trenches to find that the Germans had erected lit Christmas trees, remarked, “I was all for not allowing the blighters to enjoy themselves, especially as they had killed one of our men that afternoon. But my captain [. . .] wouldn’t let me shoot.”
Though the truces had to end and the fighting start up again after Christmas (with some truces reportedly lasting through the New Year), the men involved would always remember the Christmas of 1914. “It will be a Christmastime to live in our memory,” wrote one soldier, while another observed that “the recollection of it will ever be one of imperishable beauty.” But perhaps this soldier’s impression summed up the experience best: “All this talk of hate, all this fury at each other that has raged since the beginning of the war, quelled and stayed by the magic of Christmas.”
Find many articles and accounts about the Christmas Truce on Newspapers.com. Or search for other topics that interest you.
22 thoughts on “100th Anniversary of the Christmas Truce: December 24–25, 1914”
Thank you for this wonderful article!
Was pleased to receive this today, I will use it for my National Society Daughters of the American Revolution Chapter Program this evening. Very appropriate as we try to have programs on commemorative events.
Sadly too many have memories like the proverbial sieve …. as these stories circumnavigate the calendar from December to December and people read and pretty much make the same comments while not understanding a thing-the thing that is not wonderful but tragic because those soldiers picked up their arms upon the New Year and the horrors of war went on and on and on…proving yet again that man relies on his hypocrisy rather than his humanity while disregarding the sacred texts-of which there are many-which advise against killing. (Thou shalt NOT kill; Hold ALL Life to be Sacred…) ..when even the DAR person above either forgot or does not know that her ancestors were the very Brits who brought her forefathers/mothers to the colonies you now call the US…May favorite part of the article was a brief note about FOOTBALL…you know, like Byern Muich Football Club or Manchester United/City Football Club and even Tim Howard’s Everton Football Club…
Only in America….how truly sad!
and most Americans are not descended from British colonists…
I had heard of this, and believe Eric Maria Remarque wrote of it in “All Quiet on the Western Front”….there is something so hopeful, and yet so sad about this event
The hatred of mankind did not start in America…..it started when Adam disobeyed God (Genesis) and loved his wife more than God. It was Cain who let go of his hatred to Abel…..killed him, and hid his body in the soil. The soldiers of the Allies and the German soldiers were only carrying out the orders (do or die) of the Higher Ups and it was Hilter that wanted to kill his fellow man, and become ruler of the world. If someone came to your house, and told you to get out would you lock the door and resist by calling the cops that have guns or would you hug that person and give him your bed, your food while you sat outside in the street. Try to live in the real world, selfishness and hatred is everywhere not just in the Americas.
The US wasn’t even involved in the Great War in 1914. Therefore, your comment doesn’t make any sense.
Seems to me you are not an American, Rachida, so do not pass judgment upon us: do not bear false witness against your neighbor. And real football is not soccer.
Each of us carries a house within, our home of homes, to which we withdraw into when the horrors of life become too overwhelming. This is where those men went to find their solace, removing themselves from the horror they had so recently borne witness, finding comfort within that home, to find the humanity inside man’s most disgusting and distasteful gamble…war.
Even laying down their arms for a moment was, truly, insubordination to their duty in forgetting the humane, to become their own worst monster in circumstance, and become the weapon of their own worst nightmare as a human being.
This insubordination taught each that their sins could be forgiven, that they still carried humanity within, even living such an extreme of dire straights.
So the miracle poured forth from within, even for a moment love could be found in enemy; the monster within lost it’s horror and dishonor to humanity.
Life is about choices and these men disguised their terror of uniform, which binded them to a sanctity of morality which far outweighed any command!!
For a brief time they were able to forgive themselves and overlook the darkness and personal pain they had been living about.
Truly that experience changed each and every one of them who participated in it’s scope and magnitude of juxtaposity, no man ever the same.
To endure hell and find heaven within, even briefly, is the greatest of miracles.
The singing group, Celtic Thunder has a song on their CD, “Celtic Thunder Act Two” called ‘Christmas 1915’, that tells this story…probably whoever wrote this song got the year incorrect?
It may have also happened in 1915 since the war was still raging that year too. The song may not have been about the first truce, but about one of the truces perhaps?
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A very good movie about the Christmas Truce was the combined British/French/German film “Joyeux Noel” which I think won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film around 2005.
Mr Djebel, or is it Ms?? Sorry, but I just can’t tell.
Your hatred of Americans is distressing and somewhat confusing. Is it because you believe that Americans returned to killing after the truce or simply that what we call “football” is not what YOU call football. If the former, the US did not enter WW I until April 1917. If the latter, I suggest you check the definition of “tolerance”.
The first thing to note that this was less of a spontaneous gesture than is nowadays portrayed. Pope Benedict XV, who had only been Pope since August 1914 and a cardinal for just three months before that had been sending out memos to the governments of protagonists since the start of December. All he was asking for was 12 hours of peace. The Germans and English supported the idea. Only the Russians and the French refused, or at least that was the line put about by the German press. Others in Protestant Germany were disgruntled that the initiative was a Catholic one. Such was the jingoistic feeling in England that there was much talk in the correspondence columns of the newspapers to the effect of how could they trust the Hun to abide by any treaty. “None of the allies on our side would dream of trusting to Germany’s sense of honour after the shameless way she has broken her word in the past”, wrote the Cheshire Observer on December 19. Nevertheless the idea stuck with the Tommies and Fritzes who were actually doing the dying.
Secondly, even before the talk of the Christmas truce, truces had been breaking out in the quieter sections of the trenches that now stretched from Switzerland to the sea. On December 8 The Times’ Paris correspondent, who had been touring the lines, reported that at a certain quiet area of the French sector it was customary that each morning neither side should fire at the opposition before 5:30am, simply to allow for mundane tasks such as bringing up supplies or doing the washing.
On one part of the line along the old road from Reims and Laon, the French and Germans were separated just by the width of that road. After shouted conversations, eventually French and Germans each trusted one another enough to stick their heads up from behind the sandbags.
As The Times man, who was seemingly an eye witness, wrote: “…first one and then another head rose timidly above the trench lines until there was a whole line of German faces peeping up on a level with the roadside. Then a German suggested the French should do the same and the French in their trench rose up also and for the first time in many weeks these men who had been fighting each other were able really to see what sort of foes they had. Suddenly one of the Germans, seized with suspicion, dropped his head, and immediately like frightened rabbits scuttling to their holes, the white line of faces disappeared and hostilities were resumed.”
The Christmas truces were eventually widely reported in British, French and German papers. It did not take long for the military high commands to see how fragile would be their hold on the levers of war if that sort of thing were allowed to continue. “War is no sport”, decried the Germans, so anyone else guilty of such acts would be guilty of treason.
And though the general staff of all the belligerents tried to prevent it happening ever again, by constant troop rotation and tricks such as artillery barrages and attacks scheduled for Christmas Eve, similar rashes of sanity on a smaller scale were reported at Christmas 1915 and 1916.
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My father was in France in 1915 & there was certainly a truce between the soldiers of both sides at Christmas that year, in No Man’s Land., in fact my father said that they showed each other pictures of their respective families as well as swopping things like cigarettes, wine etc.
Father said that there was no animosity between the soldiers at that time but each had to get back to their lines, for the continuation of fighting. Apparently there was a lot of sadness at that thought but the soldiers had to carry on regardless.
The pictures of those families haunted father the rest of his life.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the xbox one. Regards
Gostei muito desta pequena história do passado.
Great article! I love stories of History.. Thank you!
If you stop the war- who will come? The commanders who will have to shoot you for “cowardice” or “‘abandoning your post” or “desertion.” It took ‘guts’ to stop that war for at least a moment in time- the guts and honor of the common man. However, unlike the prejudice of ‘Rachida’ most American people are capable of great generosity of spirit and brotherhood, but, we too, like the rest of the world, must live under a government which requires allegiance to retain our citizenship. We all need the “Spirit of Christmas” which is ‘Peace on Earth and Good Will to all mankind.’ Now, if only we could practice it all the year through, what a wonderful world we would have for all of us to live in together- without prejudice.
Beautiful to see.
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