Silent Night – The Story of 1914’s Christmas Truce
WWI, December 1914, Ypres, Belgium — Small pockets of Belgian, French and British troops began to “fraternize” with the enemy across the Western Front by mingling with the Germans, exchanging gifts, and singing Christmas carols together. The amazing event was dubbed “The Christmas Truce.” It was widespread across the Western Front, but “not universal.”
On Christmas Eve, German soldiers began to post occasional Christmas trees in their trenches. When British troops joined them in singing “Silent Night” they all began shouting Christmas greetings to one another. In another area, they sang “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”
“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.” Graham Williams, Fifth London Rifle Brigade
Throughout the month, soldiers would walk across “no man’s land” between trenches and exchange souvenirs like buttons, badges and hats, ration packs, wine, pies, and chocolates. Researchers say that at least 100,000 German and British soldiers participated in the “truce.”
Not all areas had such an event, however, there were still places where fighting continued.
Tradition has it that impromptu soccer games were held in some places between opposing sides, and one place held a pig-roast. The temporary peace allowed soldiers to bury their dead- since the bodies of the comrades had been piling up between trenches. Some fighting returned that night, other places waited until after New Years Day, according to Time. It was reported that Germans came out of the trenches with signs that read, “You no shoot, we no shoot.”
Though it was an extraordinary event in history, not all the allied forces were happy about it.
The French government was the first to severely censor any reports on what they called “fraternisation with the enemy.” Political pressure was brought to bear to censor all reports of the event from mainstream history books for decades. For years the extraordinary event was known only by word of mouth from participants. The damage caused by Christmas Truce to propaganda campaigns to demonise the enemy was regarded as a serious threat to the war. It has taken decades to unearth the details of the fascinating events surrounding Christmas 1914.
WWI eventually claimed over 15 million lives. In today’s politically correct world, many people take offense at the Christian roots of the season. We would do well to remember that it was those very songs of the birth of Christ that gave history one shining moment of peace… when hate was replaced by compassion for their fellow man.
Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht! Alles schläft; einsam wacht. Nur das traute hoch heilige Paar! Holder Knab’ im lockigen Haar, Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh! Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!
Silent Night! Holy Night! All is calm; all is bright. Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child! Holy Infant so tender and mild, Sleep in heavenly peace! Sleep in heavenly peace!