The Christmas Truce
December 24, 2011 § Leave a comment
Let me tell you a true story. It happened on a cold, rainy Christmas Eve. The year was 1914. The early months of the First World War had taken their toll with so many soldiers lost that both the German and British armies were hunkered down waiting for reinforcements.
In the French countryside around Flanders, weary and dispirited enemy soldiers faced each other in cold and muddy trenches … in some places no more than 70, 50 or even 30 yards away. Towards Christmas shooting had been sporadic, and on Christmas Eve it stopped entirely. The British army had been sent plum puddings and chocolates, butterscotch and tobacco from the king and food from home to boost morale. The German soldiers received meerschaum pipes and gifts of food as well. As the gifts came, and packages and letters were opened, men’s hearts turned to home, to their families, to Christmas.
Then a white flag was raised and a message came from the German side asking for a truce. While not officially sanctioned by the officers, in reality the captains in the trenches allowed the truce. That night small evergreen trees which had also been sent to the soldiers on the German front were lit with candles and propped up on the edge of the their trenches.
Out of the night came the strains of “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht.” The British soldiers, recognizing the tune, began to sing “Silent Night, Holy Night.” The night was transformed by men harmonizing from their opposite camps as they sang together well-loved Christmas songs … songs that proclaim the old, old story of how Christ came to earth, was born as a babe, laid in a manger, come to save us from our sins.
Christmas Day men ventured out of their trenches into no man’s land. At first just a few, then more climbed up to shake hands and exchange gifts of rations and buttons. A German juggler gave a performance, a ragged soccer ball was kicked around. Family photos were passed around, addresses exchanged. Men who had been trying to kill each other days before were now shaking hands and posing for pictures. Bodies were retrieved for burial.
This celebration of Christ’s birth sprang up spontaneously and independently in each place along the battle line where it occurred. In some places the truce lasted until the new year, in others just that day. The incident was widely reported in the newspapers with pictures of the soldiers together.
Inevitably, hostilities began again. Captain J. C. Dunn, the medical officer of the Royal Welch Fusiliers told what happened on his section. He said, “At 8:30 I fired three shots in the air and put up a flag with ‘Merry Christmas’ on it. The German captain appeared on the parapet. We both bowed and saluted and got down into our respective trenches and he fired two shots in the air and the war was on again.”
This Christmas truce has been called one of the most remarkable incidents of World War I, and perhaps of all military history. Enemy soldiers on that Christmas Eve, now 96 years ago, called a truce and sang “Silent Night, Holy Night” because of Jesus. For a few hours on that Christmas Eve there was peace … because of Jesus … because of His birth.
In our frenetic society with our wars and rumors of wars, fractured family relationships, fractious politics, and an abundance of personal opinions, we often take opposing sides. Our hearts may be searching, divided, stressed. Tonight … on this Christmas Eve … we can receive and embody the peace that Jesus gives. He is the Prince of Peace who brings peace to wounded hearts, divided families, and impossible situations.
May you know God’s peace tonight and tomorrow and the rest of your days.
ⓒ Inger Logelin 2011