Its Christmas Eve again and I just borrowed a book from the public library about the most famous Christmas Eve ever . . . since the original one two thousand years ago. In 1914, on Christmas Eve, a truce was called between the English, French and German soldiers at certain parts of the Western Front. They stopped shooting each other, exchanged cigarettes, wine and sausages, played football, sang songs, and took photos with each other. Heres a few quotes and images that stuck out to me in the book "Meeting in No Man's Land: Christmas 1914 and Fraternization in the Great War", Faro, Brown, Cazals and Mueller.
"I was standing on the firestep, gazing out towards the German line and thinking what a very different sort of Christmas Eve this was from any I had experienced in the past . . .
There had been no shooting from either side since the sniper's shot that morning, which had killed a very popular young soldier in our company named Bassingham. But this was not at all unusual.
Then suddenly, lights began to appear along the German parapet, which were evidently Christmas trees, adorned with lighted candles, which burnt steadily in the still frosty air! Other sentries had, of course, seen the same thing, and quickly awoke those on duty, asleep in the shelters, to "come and see this thing, which had come to pass". Then our opponents began to sing "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht". This was actually the first time I heard this carol, which was not then so popular in this country as it has since become. They finished their carol and we thought that we ought to retaliate in some way, so we sang "The First Nowell". And when we finished, they all began clapping; and then they struck up another favourite of theirs "O Tannenbaum". And so it went on. First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until we started up "O Come All Ye Faithful" the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words "Adeste Fidelis". And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing – two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war." Rifleman Graham Williams, page 29
"Thus, amid the bitter realities of trench warfare, with all its squalor, a Christmas song had worked a miracle and had thrown a bridge from man to man." German Crown Prince Wilhelm
"There has been a certain friendliness between our men and the Germans in the trenches. Christmas Day was looked on mutually as a peace day and both sides went out freely in front of their trenches and buried the dead which were still lying out in the fire-swept zone – Germans looked very clean and smart – Put on their best clean clothes for the occasion I fancy – They conversed freely and exchanged cigarettes . .. " Lieutenant General Sir Henry Rawlinson, Dec 27th.
" . . . if we had been left to ourselves, there would never have been another shot fired. We were on the most friendly terms, and it was only the fact that we were being controlled by others that made it necessary to start shooting each other once again. " Major Murdoch Mackenzie Wood, Gordon Highlander
"The Christmas Truce of 1914 was striking because it was seen as an exceptional phenomenon. More than any other day of the year, this day was holy – but it was accorded no official recognition from either Church nor Army, and the truce was a spontaneous soldier-led movement." Page 157, comment by the authors
There are many more stories and quotes from this amazing event but what struck me most was the potential for peace and reconciliation, even in the midst of a gruesome war. The kind of deep, true peace, that can only come through focusing on the Prince of Peace, whose birth was announced with angels praising God saying, "Glory to God in the highest. Peace on earth and goodwill toward men." Luke 2: 14
Technorati Tags: christmas, christmas eve, christmas truce
The BBC showed a film about this just a couple of days ago. I wasn’t able to watch all of it. I think it’s a French film called “Joyeux Noel”. Unfortunately it’s not available on the BBC iPlayer. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b008ly1y#broadcasts
Thanks for this great post! Jesus is the Prince of Peace! I am impressed that it started with the crazy idea to put up a lite Christmas tree on a dark night…they could have been seen and shot. Then the songs and then slowly the fellowship and even pictures. I guess it would not have happened if someone had shot down the trees or not responded to the songs. I guess we have to both offer and accept peace. May we all hear this and offer peace to everyone in all of our relationships.
marc – i heard about the movie but have not seen it yet.
paul – its interesting. the Pope suggested a truce a month earlier and then figured no one would do it. but it worked out anyway. but yeah – thanks for your thoughts.
perhaps the church(s) might want to take note- no internet bashing for the day… just wondering.
I love that story- it gives you hope. God truly at work in the midst of WW1.
“Joyeux Noël” is one of my favourite films. Great viewing for Christmas – a bit violent for smaller children though. It’s an amazing story.
By the way Andrew, we’ve never met but just wanted to say that I have been blessed following your blog in Google reader throughout the year – keep up the great work, and have a wonderful Christmas with your family.
And then they started killing each other again! What a tragic sacrilege! Lets pray for that time when Peace finally comes to earth and is permanently established in human affairs. Come King Jesus!
thanks Alan. The book goes into detail how hard it was to start shooting again. In some parts of the Western front, days went by with only friendly fire (high above their heads) to keep the generals happy. Eventually, other squads were talked into dropping bombs on the Germans because the English refused to shoot at them. It was a peace that lasted a long time and was only broken by outsiders.
but yes – one day swords will be turned into agricultural tools. what a mess that will make of the economy when the military will not be ordering new weapons, ay?
Wouldn’t it be amazing if Christmas were able to do the same thing today? With warring countries? With warring traditions? With warring churches? With warring families?
With the war within ourselves?
I love the quote “… if we had been left to ourselves, there would never have been another shot fired. We were on the most friendly terms, and it was only the fact that we were being controlled by others that made it necessary to start shooting each other once again.”
If only everyone could experience what Christmas can do.
A moving story indeed.
Andrew, Merry Christmas to your and your family.
what a powerful statement, that even amidst war there is this deep longing inside us all for community, fellowship, peace, friendship…. that for a day the blood and death will rest to celebrate the One who came to bring peace to all mankind. may we find peace this season.
thanks for sharing Andrew.
Thanks for that Andrew. Much love.
In his book “On Killing” Dave Grossman goes to length to show the extreme aversion 98% of humans have toward killing others — even in war. In the Civil War & World War I in particular, soldiers went to incredible (even comical) lengths to either a) not shoot their rifles or b) not have to shoot at another human. I love this Christmas Eve story, but it wasn’t an isolated incident. The tragedy, of course — and here is where Grossman and I disagree — is that they eventually learned to condition soldiers well enough to overcome their innate aversion to killing.
How did the Peace March during the Vietnam War impact our country economically?
Who were important in the peace march? Why was it important that veterans spoke at the capital who actually came from the Vietnam War? How did it impact the country short term and long term? Where and when did the peace march take place?
I saw a video related to this on Discovery channels.A part of glimpses i found on National geographic also.This was something n important part of the history.Ancient but interesting.