Famous Christmases in History

The WWI Christmas Day Truce: Famous Christmases in History #5

The WWI Christmas Day Truce: Famous Christmases in History

On Christmas Eve in 1914, troops on both sides of the war suddenly stopped fighting each other in a small town in Belgium. They sang Christmas carols to each other, then ventured from their fox holes to celebrate the holiday with their enemies, exchanging gifts, playing soccer, and more. Once Christmas was over, they went back to fighting each other. Maybe your ancestors were there.

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One of the most famous Christmases in modern history occurred during WWI. The year was 1914, and the Christmas spirit manifested itself in a wonderful and storied way that has gone down in history in the stuff of TV and movie depictions, and legends. And to think, it all began on a WWI battlefield. Was your ancestor one of the participants in this most famous of modern Christmas miracles? It’s worth looking into, if only for the bragging rights for your ancestor and your family tree. This famous Christmas was really something special, it moved both sides in the war to do something incredible.

On Christmas Eve of 1914, a large group of combatting German, French, and British soldiers stationed in Belgium laid down their arms, and mutually agreed to engage in a Christmas ceasefire. In fact, it is said that the temporary truce was instigated by the German side of the war, who were fighting the French and British sides. The German soldiers decorated their trenches with candles and Christmas trees in the middle of the battlefield, and began singing Christmas carols.

Witnessing this impressive and moving display of holiday spirit, the British troops waited until the Germans were done singing Silent Night, and then responded by singing The First Noel themselves. After hearing each side sing, both sides tentatively venture from their trenches and foxholes, and all ventured into the neutral “no man’s land” between them. “No man’s land” was a bombed out area that separated the trenches, and made any soldier who dared cross it a pretty easy moving target for the other side, if they so wished to eliminate that person.

Once the two sides met in the middle of No Man’s Land, they greeted each other with friendly words, and even shook hands with each other. According to firsthand accounts of soldiers who were there, the mixed group of Scottish, English, French, and German soldiers on opposing sides of the war decided to put aside their differences for the holiday, and to treat each other as fellow human beings. They shared cigarettes and sips of whiskey with each other, and a few even exchanged makeshift Christmas gifts, all with men they had been shooting at just a few hours earlier. A small group of men within the larger group even played a friendly game of soccer with each other.

This makeshift truce was not sanctioned by officers on either side. It just happened, as the common soldiers were moved by the love for their fellow man. The officers let the truce go on until Christmas was officially over, and then called their soldiers back to the trenches on each respective side, to resume fighting with each other.

The WWI Christmas truce was so famous that other, similar truces were attempted on other Christmases in WWI and in WWII, but were mostly frowned upon and usually outright forbidden by the officers in charge. This one example of humanity and shared brotherhood with each other, no matter what side of the war one was on, stood out, and always has since then, as an incredible example of brotherly love.


Will Moneymaker

Will established Ancestral Findings in 1995 and has helped genealogy researchers for over 25 years. He is also a freelance photographer, husband of twenty-eight years, father of four children, and has one grandchild.