During World War I, on and around Christmas Day 1914, the sounds of rifles firing and shells exploding faded in a number of places along the Western Front in favor of holiday celebrations in the trenches and gestures of goodwill between enemies.
On Christmas Eve, many German and British troops sang Christmas carols to each other across the lines, and at certain points the Allied soldiers even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing.
At the first light of dawn on Christmas Day, some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs. There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a good-natured game of soccer.
Some soldiers used this short-lived ceasefire for a more somber task: the retrieval of the bodies of fellow combatants who had fallen within the no-man’s land between the lines.
The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare. It was never repeated—future attempts at holiday ceasefires were quashed by officers’ threats of disciplinary action—but it served as heartening proof, however brief, that beneath the brutal clash of weapons, the soldiers’ essential humanity endured.
During World War I, the soldiers on the Western Front did not expect to celebrate on the battlefield, but even a world war could not destroy the Christmas spirit.
Why Is VFP Involved?
Veterans For Peace is celebrating the anniversary of the Christmas Truce. We urge our leaders to follow the example set by the Christmas Truce soldiers who rejected militarism and the glorification of war. We call on the nation to honor veterans and all those who have died in war by working for peace and the prevention of war.
Who better than veterans who work for peace to tell the story of these soldiers’ celebration of peace in the midst of war? There is no better way to honor the dead than to protect the living from the fear, terror and morale deprivation of war.Our society needs to hear this story that peace is possible.
Here are ways that you can be involved in the efforts to celebrate the Christmas Truce:
- Send our holiday card honoring the Christmas Truce
- Check out the Christmas Truce Podcast
- Read and share Christmas in the Trenches
- Check out and share VFP-UK’s amazing song on the Christmas Truce
- Spread the message on social media. Be sure to join in the conversation!
- Christmas Truce Speech by Bill Gilson
- Lessons from the Christmas Truce of 1914 by Gary G. Kohls, MD
- The Great Truce by Margarita M. Asencio Lopez
- Significance of the 1914 Christmas Truce by S. Brian Willson
- Christmas Truce – M Brown and S Seaton. Published by Pan.ISBN:0330390651. A well-researched and easy-to-read book
- Silent Night, The Remarkable Christmas Truce of 1914 – Stanley Weintraub. Published by Pocket BooksISBN: 0684866226. A fine book on one of the most remarkable events of the 20th century
- Christmas in the Trenches, a book for children
- To Hear The Angels Sing – Myscha Butt
- Documentary: Days That Shook The World, Season 2 Episode 2 BBC
- Merry Christmas: Also known as Joyeux Noel. This film takes a few liberties but conveys generally the spirit of the truce – with the exception of the rather bizarre and ridiculous notion that a German female opera singer was smuggled to the front line and took part in the truce with a solo performance. I suppose it was thought it would add a ‘love interest’ to the event!
- Christmas Truce – Kerstbestand: By Coope, Boyes and Simpson. A delightful CD music recreating the spirit of the great event.
- The Christmas Truce by Judith Bingham. The work was originally a commission by the BBC and was first performed in 2004 by the BBC singers.
- The American country singer Garth Brooks sings a song called Belleau Wood about the Christmas Truce.
- Christmas in the Trenches – a song by American singer-songwriter, John McCutcheon.
- Christmas Truce by VFP Member Gerry Kamke
- The Christmas Truce of 1914 by VFP Member Richard Greve
- Christmas Eve, 1914 by VFP member, Jay Wenk
- The Christmas Truce by Kathryn Louise Sugg Willard
- The Christmas Truce by Charlotte Koons
- Lessons from the Vietnam War: What it means to be human by VFP member Becky Luening
- ESSAY: The Christmas Truce by VFP member Arnold “Skip” Oliver