Nowadays a story like this is hard to believe, but it did happen. A true Christmas miracle.
Historians simply refer to it as “The Christmas Truce of 1914.”
World War I — the War to End All Wars — was well into its fifth month with the battlefields of Flanders, Belgium, seeing fierce fighting between German soldiers and those from Britain and France. Safety for the combatants was found in muddy, six- to eight-foot deep trenches. Those man-made ditches were surrounded by the carnage of war when Christmas morning arrived, the first Christmas that soldiers spent away from their loved ones.
That’s when the most amazing thing happened.
All of a sudden the Germans started putting Christmas trees lit by candles on the tops of their trenches. Then they broke out in song. Across the way, the English and French, not to be outdone, answered with Christmas carols of their own.
That’s when some of the Germans proposed a toast, “You no shoot, we no shoot,” they yelled in broken English. The French and British thought it might be a trick as they nervously watched German soldiers crawling out of the trenches. They were ready to fire upon the Germans when they noticed in the dawning Christmas morning light that the Germans were unarmed, singing Christmas carols at the tops of their lungs.
That’s all it took.
Thousands of troops from both sides streamed across a no-man’s land strewn with rotting corpses, meeting half way. Their first order of business was to bury the dead. After that, they sang more Christmas carols and exchanged gifts — chocolate cake, Cognac, newspapers, postcards, tobacco, plumb pudding … anything of value. They showed each other photographs of loved ones back home, played soccer, even roasted some pigs. Soldiers embraced men they had been trying to kill a few short hours before. At certain points, German soldiers with brass musical instruments even led the joyous singing.
A shudder ran through the high command on both sides. In the minds of officers, this was disaster in the making: soldiers declaring their brotherhood with each other and refusing to fight. Generals on both sides declared this spontaneous peacemaking to be treasonous and subject to court martial.
Sensing the ire of their commanders, the soldiers from both sides agreed to warn each other if the top brass forced them to fire their weapons, and to aim high.
The Christmas Truce of 1914 remains one of the most unusual events in history.
On that day almost 100 years ago, there was peace on Earth and goodwill toward men, all because the focus was on Christmas.