For many months in 1914, the night sky along the French and German border was filled with the sights and sounds of gunfire, shelling, and explosions. The world was at war with itself and millions were already dead.
But for one night, December 24, 1914, the weapons of destruction would fall silent, so that a Holy Night could be remembered in peace.
When Christmas Eve of 1914 finally arrived, the nations of the world were already entrenched in what would become known as The First World War. Along the Western Front in Belgium, French and British soldiers stared across battle lines at the hated Germans.
But this night of battle would be unlike any other for these soldiers.
After nightfall, the Germans began to light candles and erect makeshift Christmas trees within their trenches. With their decorations complete, the German soldiers broke out in song, jubilantly singing various Christmas carols. Not wanting to be outdone, the British answered back with Christmas carols of their own. The singing gave way to shouting, as Christmas greetings were yelled to both armies across the dreaded and deadly No Man’s Land.
Shortly thereafter, the embittered enemies – none of which shared a common language – began to raise signs that simply said, “You no fight, we no fight.” The crude message was effective enough; it was the beginning of a truce.
Eventually, brave soldiers began to risk excursions across the cratered earth through webs of barbed wire to exchange gifts with the enemy. Food, tobacco, and, of course, alcohol were some of the most popular gifts of the evening.
The lull in fighting afforded both sides time to gather their unclaimed dead, and treat wounded who had been cutoff in the hellish region known as No Man’s Land.
Historical accounts also claim that several soccer games broke out here and there. In some places along the Western Front, joint worship services were even held.
The famous, if unofficial, truce lasted all the way through Christmas night. In fact, in some places, the truce lasted until New Year’s Day. Almost a century later, that event is called the Christmas truce. That night, British, French, and German armies echoed the jubilation proclaimed by an army of angels 2,000 years earlier:
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:13-14)
For one night during the Great War, there was truly peace on earth. But there is coming a day, the Savior’s day, when peace will not be temporary, but eternal.
The First World War by Holger H. Herwig. Arnold, 1997, 118-119.
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(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)