The true meaning of Christmas

December 24, 2009

If you’ve not heard the story of the WWI truce of Christmas, 1914, please read this entry. It’ll make your holiday. I dare you to stay dry-eyed. (Story taken from internet sources, not written by me.)Christmas 1914. British and German troops faced each other, stalemated in trenches divided by only yards: No Man’s Land.

Nearly a million had already died in this first year of World War I, a war that would last four years and claim more than 8 million soldiers and 13 million civilians. On that Christmas Eve, while capitalists, generals and politicians feasted in safety and boasted about their war, in many trenches, soldiers called a truce. Violating orders, they agreed not to shoot during Christmas.

Usually the German soldiers made the first truce offers to the British, French, Scotch or Irish units facing them. Soldiers who afterwards wrote letters home about this extraordinary moment, described the Germans putting up Christmas trees, calling greetings, and singing Christmas carols like “Silent Night” and addressing their supposed enemy as “Comrades.”

Soldiers from the British side might respond with carols of their own. A soldier might have a harmonica, concertina or flute to play. Both sides would applaud each other. Signs were made: “You no shoot, we no shoot.”

Cautiously the first truces were made. Groups of soldiers left their trenches and met in No Man’s Land. They gathered and buried the dead of both sides. They exchanged their cigarettes, their liquor, their Christmas rations and gifts. They exchanged souvenirs, often trading pieces of each other’s uniforms. They wore each other’s hats and helmets and posed all together for the rare camera (usually an officer’s). They shared pictures of their families, and stories of their lives in peacetime.

Soccer games were the highlight of the truce. A “ball” would be a stuffed sandbag, the goals marked with piles of soldiers’ coats. For up to two weeks in some places, the truce held.


p>The soldiers sent letters home to their families, even a few pictures, describing this extraordinary night. The families forwarded the letters to the newspapers. But the newspapers would not print them. It was wartime. The soldiers were not supposed to be peaceful. The higher authorities tried to pretend it had all been made up by traitors. Not until a soldier’s letter was sent overseas and printed by The New York Times did the barricade break, and papers in both England and Germany began to print the soldiers’ stories.

Now let Walter Cronkite and the Mormon Tabernacle take it:

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