Christmas in the Trenches: The Christmas Truce of 1914 and the True Meaning of Christmas

Ethan Ingram, Editor

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As Thanksgiving comes and goes, the Christmas season, particularly the aspect of the incessant wanting for more items, appears to begin earlier each year, with this year’s “holiday season” beginning some time before Halloween. However, through this materialistic outlook of the holiday, we are missing its entire meaning. Therefore, I will try to explain the true meaning of Christmas through the most unlikely of places: a battlefield.

The year was 1914, German forces had pushed into Belgium as a part of their goal to catch France off guard in their two-front war against the Triple-Entente powers (France, Russia, and Great Britain). Opposing them were the forces of Great Britain and Belgium, and because of the ill-fated push to the sea by the Germans along with the Entente counter-attack, a long period of entrenchment (trench warfare) had begun. This period of entrenchment constituted little movement between the opposing sides, and as December rolled around, soldiers realized that promises of being home with their families before Christmas was in vain.

When Christmas Eve finally came to the men in the trenches the story goes that parcels “sent” by the king(s) of all nations provided little comfort in the trenches filled with frozen mud, a rampant rat problem (although they were mainly hibernating during the winter), and much more discomforts from living outside during the winter. However, as dusk set into the frozen battlefields, the British watchmen noticed something strange about the German lines, which were not that far from their own. Lights were being placed upon the parapets of the trenches and more were racing throughout the dug out portion. Fearing an attack, the British prepared a sound defense, but as they waited on that unnaturally quiet battlefield, they began to hear a familiar tune being sung in another language. It was the Germans. Singing “Silent Night” and placing what turned out to be Christmas Trees (Tannenbaums) upon the parapets of the trenches, the Germans were actually celebrating Christ’s birth in the middle of a war zone! As the British realized that the Germans weren’t being hostile towards them, they began to sing along with the Germans, creating a combination of voices and languages that “was absolutely beautiful,” according to those who took part in this event. Following this Christmas Caroling, a “tense” standoff between the Germans and British occurred as the Germans beckoned their counterparts to come up out of their trenches and meet them on the field.

Not trusting the Germans entirely, the British called over the trenches “you’ll shoot if we climb up”. However, the Germans promised that they wouldn’t shoot, prompting a lone British soldier to fully trust them and climb up, with a German in the other trench doing the same. As more and more troops began to meet on the opposing sides of the field, small gifts of cigarettes, chocolate, etc. were exchanged, more carols were sung, pictures of family members were shared, and friendly matches of football (soccer) were played (with the Germans winning 3-2). This was a momentous event in the history of the world, for never before had common soldiers formulated a peace between one another without the consent of their superiors. The next day though, they were back in the trenches on December 26th, fighting “The War to End All Wars” till its very end.

It is stories like this that reveal the true meaning of Christmas because it is the celebration of “peace on earth” and “goodwill towards man” that provide a solid reflection on Christ’s birth, not the shopping that, in retrospect, doesn’t matter. If the birth of Christ can stop a war from occurring for even one day, it truly stands out in how important the holiday really is past all of the materialism. When going back to the Christmas Truce of 1914, it has played a major role in popular culture, as seen in the 1967 hit “Snoopy’s Christmas,” where the Royal Guardsmen proclaim that “Christmas bells, those Christmas bells, ringing through the land. Bringing peace to all the world, and good will to man,” and pausing all of the hostilities between the two warring nations, with Snoopy representing the Allies and The Red Baron obviously representing the opposing side. Therefore, when celebrating Christmas this year, don’t forget the true reason of why we celebrate it (Christ’s birth) and how meaningful it can be, as seen from the eyes of soldiers over 100 years ago.

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