The Christmas Truce

On this day in 1914, The Great War ceases at points along the lines of the western and eastern fronts as combatants partake of an entirely unsanctioned “Christmas Truce.” The Christmas Truce occurred during the relatively early period of the war (month 5 of 51). Hostilities had entered somewhat of a lull as leadership on both sides reconsidered their strategies following the stalemate of the Race to the Sea and the indecisive result of the First Battle of Ypres.

In one instance, reportedly hearing the singing of carols and well-wishes for the holiday in broken English for much of that Christmas Eve, BEF troops looked out over their trench to see the Germans had placed lanterns and fir trees up over their own defenses. Soon enough, men of both sides ventured into no man’s land to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs.

There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in carol-singing. Men played games of football (soccer) with one another, one of the most memorable images of the truce. Peaceful behavior, however, was not ubiquitous; fighting continued in some sectors, while in others the sides settled on little more than arrangements to recover bodies.

Historians note that an informal system of “live and let live” would often take hold of certain sectors in this and other conflicts as instances of non-co-operation with the war spirit included flat refusals to fight, unofficial truces, mutinies, strikes, and peace protests.

The Christmas Truces, however, were particularly significant due to the number of men involved and the level of their participation; even in very peaceful sectors, dozens of men openly congregating in daylight was remarkable. They are often seen as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity amidst one of the most violent events of human history.

And here, our Christmas story endeth.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.