Europe 1914: Months of bitter fighting using antiquated tactics with modern weaponry have forced British and German soldiers alike into long meandering trenches. As bad as living in a trench was, it was still preferable to the sure death or maiming that awaited them outside its miserable confines. That all changed as Christmas neared.
There are several stories out there, but one I enjoy in particular tells of German soldiers putting themselves at risk by illuminating their positions with candles, holding up Christmas trees for the British soldiers to see and singing Silent Night in German. Recognizing the tune, British soldiers sang along in English. As Christmas carols were traded back and forth between sides, soldiers cautiously began to come out of their trenches meeting in the middle to share Christmas with the enemy in no-man’s land. There they shared cigarettes, liquor, and cheer around hastily built campfires.
1914 was a special year – for a small moment in time, humanity prevailed. Fighting had only been going on for about five months, so as Christmas neared I’m sure both sides had keen memories of joyous past holidays with family and friends. These memories juxtaposed with their current existence could not help but bring someone to the conclusion that there are more important things in life than taking ground inch by inch.
We can all learn a lot from these soldiers. From the German soldiers who took a risk putting themselves in harm’s way to spread cheer, to the British troops who chose not to take advantage of the vulnerable position the Germans had put themselves in.
As the holidays come and go this year let’s take a page from these men. Lay down our arms and recognize the humanity that is in all of us. Spend the holidays doing what these soldiers wished they could be doing instead of fighting.
As for me, I will be turning down the news, turning up the Bing Crosby, and soaking up the joy in my kid’s faces as they take stock of what Santa brought. Though the house will surely become obliterated with shredded wrappings, empty boxes and over-sugared kids, days later I know I’ll still long for the holidays as I reluctantly return to the trenches.
- The Christmas truce (greatwarlondon.wordpress.com)
- The WWI Christmas Truce of 1914 (mentalfloss.com)
- December 24, 1914: The Christmas Truce (todayifoundout.com)
- ‘A football was kicked out of our trenches and we played the Germans’: Poignant letter recounting famous 1914 Christmas Day truce rediscovered nearly 100 years on (dailymail.co.uk)
- ‘Historic’ X-mas day football match of WW1 started after Brits kicked ball in No Man’s Land (indiavision.com)