One hundred years ago this Christmas, five months after the outbreak of World War I, a truce was happening on the Western front to celebrate Christmas in the midst of the war. Soldiers who had previously believed that this would be a brief war, were now beginning to understand just how lengthy and far-reaching this war would be. In one last moment of peace, the troops on both sides briefly paused the war to celebrate Christmas together.
Beginning on Christmas Eve, both British and German troops stopped their firing and began to sing Christmas carols. At the first light on Christmas day, German soldiers began to enter the No Man’s Land and greet British soldiers, saying “Merry Christmas” in the enemy’s language. British soldiers were at first wary of this and believed that it was going to be an attack, but when they saw that the Germans were without weapons, they began returning the Christmas wishes. All of the soldiers all emptied into the No Man’s Land and began to sing and exchange presents of plum pudding and cigars. In a letter to his wife that was later published in the Bucks Examiner on January 8, 1915, Rifleman J. Reading wrote, “During the early part of the morning the Germans started singing and shouting, all in good English. They shouted out: “Are you the Rifle Brigade; have you a spare bottle; if so we will come half way and you come the other half.” At 4 a.m part of their Band played some Christmas carols and “God save the King”, and “Home Sweet Home.” You could guess our feelings. Later on in the day they came towards us, and our chaps went out to meet them. Of course neither of us had any rifles. I shook hands with some of them, and they gave us cigarettes and cigars. We did not fire that day, and everything was so quiet that it seemed like a dream. We took advantage of the quiet day and brought our dead in” (Found here). There is a legend that the soldiers even started a friendly game of soccer, with Germany winning.
As a first-hand account recalls, “Their trenches were a blaze of Christmas trees, and our sentries were regaled for hours with the traditional Christmas songs of the Fatherland. Their officers even expressed annoyance the next day that some of these trees had been fired on, insisting that they were part almost of the sacred rite” (Found here). One of the most beautiful aspects of this day was the singing of carols, which could be heard for miles around. The most well-remembered song sung that day was Silent Night. Other songs were sung that day and can be found listed here, but none were as inspirational as Silent Night. To end this day of truce, soldiers were burying their dead on both sides along with prayers, particularly the 23rd Psalm.
The truce would not last long, and would not be repeated on the following Christmases of the war, but it is important to remember this Christmas and the message it provides for us. So, while you’re celebrating with your families and friends this Christmas, remember the truce that occurred one hundred years ago and let it remind you of the true meaning of Christmas.
Merry Christmas from the Reckless Historians Team!