The spirit of Christmas lives throughout many American homes through sounds of music and visions of Christmas decorations. Most people associate Christmas with joy, love, family, and friendship. Few people like to associate Christmas with war or death. But over 100 years ago, groups of war torn soldiers took a break from killing and celebrated Christmas together. Instead of celebrating in front of a warm fireplace, these soldiers celebrated Christmas in filthy trenches between France and Germany.
It’s been said war is Hell which is known by war veterans of Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Although war involves horrific stories and death, we rarely ever hear many stories of peace or mercy during wartime. But during Christmas of 1914, a group of soldiers chose to put down their weapons and share some Christmas cheer with one another.
World War I was a deadly war fought from 1914 to 1918. On Christmas Eve 1914, the battlefield was muddy, cold and miserable. Instead of spending the holidays with family, millions of soldiers spent their Christmas holiday struggling to stay alive under vicious gunfire.
On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV asked soldiers to hold a truce to celebrate Christmas. The request was formally rejected. But just because warring nations rejected the request for peace, it didn’t stop groups of soldiers from partaking in their own truces.
It’s been reported that in certain areas throughout the battlefield, many soldiers celebrated Christmas. Although no one had Christmas trees or warm and inviting fireplaces, Christmas found its way onto a filthy battlefield.
On Christmas Eve, German soldiers approached French and English soldiers. Puzzled Allied troops were leery at first, but after watching German soldiers place their weapons to the side, they gave peace a try. Although the men spoke different languages, they shared their meals, sang Christmas carols and danced. There are many documented stories of enemy troops playing soccer, talking and laughing together.
The celebration lasted from Christmas Eve through Christmas day. Unfortunately, the celebration didn’t spread throughout the entire battlefield. Although some soldiers took a respite from killing, others continued fighting. Some soldiers used the temporary cease fire to remove their dead comrades from the battlefield. One English soldier had reported that he had removed the old buttons from a German soldier’s jacket and replaced them with new ones.
I cannot remember any other war where soldiers took a break to celebrate Christmas with their enemies.
Regardless of nationality or uniform, we are all people. Although this special Christmas happened many years ago, history won’t let us forget the kindness shared between mortal enemies trying to kill one other.
After Christmas, the war continued and soldiers became enemies again. The war would last for another four years. Over nine million soldiers died in the conflict while at least seven million civilians died. Sadly, history would repeat itself as a German soldier from WWI named Adolph Hitler would rise to power and start WWII over twenty years later.
Christmas will be here before we know it. Families will take the time to celebrate with their loved ones. By now many homes have their Christmas trees set up and wreaths placed on the door. Families will awaken to unwrap gifts, sing Christmas carols and watch holiday movies. The celebration of Christmas has been a favorite past time for myself and many others. I have so many great memories of celebrating with my beloved grandparents, parents and siblings. For Christmas of 2017, I would like to take a brief moment to remember the brave soldiers who laid down their rifles and celebrated Christmas with their sworn enemies.
Marc is a grandparent and longtime resident of Clermont County. Visit his author page Life with Grandpa and he also just wrote Just Bite Me: A Guide to Zombies, Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Walking Nightmares, which is available on Amazon.com.