The Christmas Day Truce is one of the more memorable stories of peace. During World War I, nearly 100,000 French, British, and German soldiers participated in an unofficial ceasefire around the Christmas holidays of 1914.
Wikipedia reports, “In the week leading up to the 25th, French, German, and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into no man’s land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in carol-singing. Men played games of football with one another, giving one of the most memorable images of the truce.”
Bruce Bairnsfather served throughout the war and wrote about the day, “I wouldn’t have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything…. I spotted a German officer, some sort of lieutenant I should think, and being a bit of a collector, I intimated to him that I had taken a fancy to some of his buttons…. I brought out my wire clippers and, with a few deft snips, removed a couple of his buttons and put them in my pocket. I then gave him two of mine in exchange…. “
Alfred Anderson, a Scottish veteran of the war recalled, “I remember the silence, the eerie sound of silence. Only the guards were on duty. We all went outside the farm buildings and just stood listening. And, of course, thinking of people back home. All I’d heard for two months in the trenches was the hissing, cracking and whining of bullets in flight, machinegun fire and distant German voices. But there was a dead silence that morning, right across the land as far as you could see. We shouted ‘Merry Christmas’, even though nobody felt merry. The silence ended early in the afternoon and the killing started again. It was a short peace in a terrible war.”
The following year, the commanders issued strongly worded orders to keep the soldiers from joining into an unofficial ceasefire, fearing that it would undermine the willingness to keep fighting. By 1916, the bitter losses of the war and the use of poison gas created such intense animosity that the soldiers held no ceasefires for Christmas.
Though the Christmas Truce is popularly portrayed as a rare miracle, the historical record shows that fraternization and unofficial ceasefires were widespread. They also took place amidst a wide variety of peace activities and efforts to stop the war. Today, the Christmas Truce is a reminder to all of us that peace is always possible and that war is neither inevitable nor unstoppable, if only we will cease to fight it.
If you enjoyed this, you will also appreciate the fictional adaptation of this story in the Stories of the Third Brother. http://www.riverasun.com/alaren-the-feast-day-ceasefire
This article is from Rivera Sun’s book of nonviolent histories that have made our world. Click here for more information.
Rivera Sun is a change-maker, a cultural creative, a protest novelist, and an advocate for nonviolence and social justice. She’s a love-based revolutionary and the author of The Dandelion Insurrection, The Way Between and ten other fiction, non-fiction and poetry books. Her essays and writings are syndicated by Peace Voice, and have appeared in over a hundred journals nationwide. Rivera Sun speaks and facilitates workshops in strategy for nonviolent change across the country and around the world. She connects the dots between the issues, shares solutionary ideas, and inspires people to step up to the challenge of being a part of the story of change in our times. www.riverasun.com
WWI photo by Robson, Harold B – This is photograph Q 50719 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5578315