(Editor’s note: This is a reprint of a commentary I post every Christmas. HK)
Has there ever been a Christmas when there was no war, no fighting in any corner of our planet? It’s difficult to imagine, since the world’s history has been a series of conquests and defenses.
But there was once a Christmas when the fighting did stop, when enemies shook hands and laughed and even sang Christmas carols together.
The First World War had been underway just a few months in December 1914, but it was clear a long, bloody fight was ahead. The Germans and the English were dug in their muddy trenches, separated sometimes by just 60 yards.
Between them was a No-Man’s land of mud, debris and the casualties of both sides, left unburied for weeks.
But something remarkable happened along the battle lines on Christmas 102 years ago; the German and British soldiers stopped fighting.
It wasn’t that they were afraid to fight. The trenches of both sides were filled with brave men who faced death each day. No, the peace began as an informal truce casually agreed to by the officers in the field, but not the generals safely in the rear.
At night the English first saw the lights of Christmas decorations in the German trenches, and then heard the sounds of the German soldiers singing Christmas carols. The British soldiers responded in kind.
All along the Western Front the scene repeated itself. The impromptu truce spread. In some places along the lines the warring soldiers emerged from their trenches, leaving their guns behind, and met in No-Man’s land where they exchanged food and conversed as best they could. One group of soldiers played a game of soccer.
Percy Jones of the Queen’s Westminster Regiment said, “Altogether we had a great day with our enemies, and parted with much hand-shaking and mutual goodwill.” Corporal John Ferguson of the Seaforth Highlanders remarked, “Here we were, laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill.”
Well behind the trenches the British High Command was distressed, fearing it might not be able to get the men to start fighting again. The war might grind to a halt. Headquarters issued a statement blaming the lack of fighting at the front on “stormy weather.”
Eventually, the soldiers at the front drifted back to their positions. At some locations along the front the Christmas Spirit carried to the New Year before fighting resumed. The fighting, of course, did start again and continued for nearly four more bloody years.
This Christmas as we search for good news in a troubled world we can remember that Christmas 102 years ago when the spirit of peace on earth and good will toward men was strong enough to—for a time at least—stop a world war.