Powerful Message Still Rings From Christmas Truce Of 1914

A simple but powerful message still echoes from the Western Front in the early months of World War I, a reminder of the words of angels as they appeared to shepherds tending their flocks over 2,000 years ago.

And while the heavenly beings sang “Peace on Earth and goodwill towards men,” their tidings may also be summarized with the Biblical command to “love your enemies.”

On Christmas Eve 1914, a startling incident broke out that will be told and retold as long as there are people of faith sharing their histories. In the cold and muddy trenches of Belgium, German forces tried to keep warm on one side with British soldiers doing the same nearby.

The “War to End All Wars” was in full swing, but now there were simply cold and fearful men on the eve of the most important day of the year. Suddenly, the German side began singing Christmas carols.

Then the British responded in kind. From the other side, a voice with a strong German accent proclaimed, “Come over here.”

A British officer responded, telling the enemy that his men would meet them halfway. In no-man’s land. And they did.

Slowly at first, and no doubt suspiciously. The two sides that had been interacting only with bullets and artillery met in the barbed-wire space in between. What came next is the stuff of legends.

The Germans and the British greeted each other on that Christmas Eve. Enemies shook hands, sang songs, and exchanged small gifts in the forms of wine and cigarettes.

And that Belgian battlefield was not the only site of the spontaneous and peaceful gatherings. All along the Western Front, a commingling of Belgian, French, British, and German soldiers was reported, and some remained at peace for days afterward.

A British soldier named Ernie Williams recalled a soccer ball appearing from whereabouts unknown and a makeshift match ensuing. Gleeful warriors erected what passed for goals, and the icy patch between the trenches became a soccer field.

Predictably, leaders on both sides were horrified. Many denounced the sorry state of affairs that led to fighting men fraternizing with the enemy.

It is widely noted that some were even punished for the temporary truce, and there are no reports of similar outbreaks of peace for the remainder of the horrific war.

Still, the Christmas Truce of 1914 stands as a testament to the Biblical instruction to “love your enemies.” On far-flung and muddy patches of ground where men had been killing each other in the days before, there were shining examples of “peace on Earth and goodwill towards men.”