Silent Night: When History’s Ugliest War Was Put On Hold For The Holidays

On a cool December morning over a century ago, in the midst of one of history’s most brutal wars, something magical happened.

Thousands of British, French, Belgian, and German soldiers ceased fire without having any specific instruction to do so.

For two days, they abandoned their weapons and their nationalistic impulses, instead choosing to eat, drink, and make merry with rivals they had been attempting to conquer just days before. At any other time of the year, this would have been an act of dissidence unlike any the world had ever seen before.

It was Christmas 1914, however, and the world was tired of fighting.

The Christmas Truce Of 1914

Wikimedia Commons

The idea of a Christmas truce didn’t spring up out of nowhere.

Initially, it was Pope Benedict XV who proposed a ceasefire in the spirit of holiday peace. World War I had been raging for months, taking lives, depleting supplies, and chipping away at the spirits of every nation involved. However, this justification initially proved unconvincing, and the Pope’s efforts were rejected by military and government leaders.

It seemed that the world powers were simply too invested in their conflicts to put it on hold for something as arbitrary as a holiday.

The Soldiers On Every Side Had The Same Idea

Wikimedia Commons

However, the young men putting their lives on the line for the war thought differently.

No one knows specifically where it started or how it spread, but beginning on the morning of Christmas Eve, two-thirds of active World War I troops (amounting to over 100,000 individuals) replaced the sound of gunfire with festive choruses of Christmas carols in what history would refer to as the Christmas Truce of 1914.

Soldiers of a variety of nationalities crossed borders of politics and language as they shared messages reading “You no shoot, we no shoot,” and even “Merry Christmas.” They spent the next 48 hours sharing food, candy, cigarettes, buttons, and even hats in the form of gifts to each other.

The brief moment of peace provided something the violence-ridden world truly needed that year: a real-life Christmas miracle.

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