The Christmas Truce of 1914
“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it” John 1:5
Whenever I hear that verse on Christmas, I think of its profound mystical meaning, however, I also think of the most moving modern story of Christmas: The Christmas Truce of World War I in 1914.
On that Christmas, the world had been at war for four months. The horrors had reached a scale that no nation had seen in previous wars. Any illusions of a short conflict with a swift victory had been dispelled.
On the Western Front of Europe, however, the guns of August fell silent. There was a Christmas Truce. A respite from carnage.
There was no fear of enemy fire from either side across that deadly space between the trenches. Instead, enemies gathered as friends in that no man’s land. Despite bomb-craters and barbed wires, gifts of food, tobacco, and alcohol were exchanged. There were pick-up games of football (soccer as we Americans call it). In one contest, Germany beat England 3-2.
On Christmas Eve, candles were lit in the dark. German troops serenaded the opposing forces with “Stille Nacht,” “Silent Night.”
Christmas ended and so did the Christmas Truce of 1914. The soldiers who exchanged gifts once again exchanged fire for whatever reasons governments say that they must go to war. Such a Christmas Truce would never happen again.
The war and the soldiers slogged on for four years. But on that Christmas of 1914, the light did shine in the darkness of total war and the darkness did not overcome it.
Christian educator John Westerhoff said, “Christmas is about the birth of a possibility.”
During Christmas 1914 on the Western Front, there was a vision of that possibility of peace on earth and good will to all.
The Rev. Robert Russell Smith