Exactly 100 years ago today, troops fighting on both sides of the Great War laid aside their arms for a day in what became known as the Christmas Truce of 1914, a spontaneous outpouring of Christmas spirit in the trenches.
The Christmas Truce of 1914 played out differently in various places along the trenches, but according to one account by British Rifleman Graham Williams, it began with an exchange of carols on Christmas Eve:
Then suddenly lights began to appear along the German parapet, which were evidently make-shift Christmas trees, adorned with lighted candles, which burnt steadily in the still, frosty air! … First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up “O Come, All Ye Faithful” the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing – two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.
All along the trenches, similar events unfolded. Gifts were exchanged, the dead were buried, and some impromptu soccer matches started up as well. In some places, fighting didn’t resume until after New Years.
The Christmas Truce of 1914 was never repeated in the other years of World War I. The grisly fighting that ensued largely eroded this willingness for camaraderie and good will. But that first truce was a surprising testimony to the power of peace even in the midst of war, when Christian charity and the merriment of the season overcame for a brief time even the most bitter lethal opposition of foes.
On this Christmas day, exactly one hundred years later, let’s remember the power of peace again, thank God for the gift of goodwill He has given us, and savor the joy of the season. Merry Christmas!