Peace on Earth.
Christmas is a time when we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace. The angels sang, “peace on earth, good will towards men” on the night He was born.
He arrived as a child. He arrived in peace.
But in spite of this, all across this globe of ours mankind continues to wage war.
World War I, or “The Great War” was considered “the war to end all wars”. Of the 65 million that fought in this conflict, half never made it home. It was thought that with the devastation and aftermath of modern warfare, humanity would take every measure to prevent it from ever happening again.
Sadly, it was mere decades before the seeds of another World War were sown.
But in the midst of the bloodshed, there is one bright spot that shines out through the darkness of this conflict.
The Christmas Truce of 1914.
It was a moment when enemy combatants truly embraced peace on earth, and good will towards those they were supposed to hate.
It was a moment when the men in those cold, muddy trenches soon realized they had more in common than they had differences.
On Christmas Eve of 1914, in the trenches on the Western front, the German troops were seen lighting candles, setting up spruce trees, and heard singing Christmas carols. The English troops, in trenches just a few yards away, started singing carols in response.
Before long, the men had emerged from their trenches, had met in the middle, and were celebrating an unofficial peace.
Letters from soldiers recall that they agreed to not shoot the following day (Christmas Day).
Their letters describe this unique Christmas:
“This will be the most memorable Christmas I’ve ever spent or likely to spend: since about tea time yesterday I don’t think there’s been a shot fired on either side up to now. Last night turned a very clear frost moonlight night, so soon after dusk we had some decent fires going and had a few carols and songs. The Germans commenced by placing lights all along the edge of their trenches and coming over to us—wishing us a Happy Christmas etc. They also gave us a few songs etc. so we had quite a social party.”
Bruce Bairnsfather, who served throughout the war, wrote: “I wouldn’t have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything. … I spotted a German officer, some sort of lieutenant I should think, and being a bit of a collector, I intimated to him that I had taken a fancy to some of his buttons. … I brought out my wire clippers and, with a few deft snips, removed a couple of his buttons and put them in my pocket. I then gave him two of mine in exchange. … The last I saw was one of my machine gunners, who was a bit of an amateur hairdresser in civil life, cutting the unnaturally long hair of a docile Boche, who was patiently kneeling on the ground whilst the automatic clippers crept up the back of his neck.”
It is even reported that these enemies gathered the bodies of those who had been killed on the front lines, helped to bury them together, and held joint funeral services.
Being Christmas, some officers were sympathetic to it. However, others were not as pleased, and as the battles grew more bitter and violent, commanding officers began to order heavy artillery strikes on subsequent Christmas Eves just to prove their point. But this beautiful display lives on in the stories passed down from those who were there.
According to those firsthand accounts, there was a vibrant soccer match played between the two sides that day. The Germans won that friendly match 3-2; the game ending when the ball went flat after being kicked into a barbed wire barricade.
There’s a sad symbolism in that.
But It was a brief moment when peace defeated war.
It was a glimpse of what should be, in the midst of what should never be.
It was a celebration of life, in a world plagued by death.
It was hope in the midst of hopelessness, and light in the midst of darkness.
It was peace on earth, good will towards men.
It was Christmas.
* * * * * * * *
I first learned of the Christmas Truce, oddly enough, from a Paul McCartney music video from the 1980’s. I encourage you to take a few moments to watch Sir Paul’s take on this moment in history:
As the Christmas season becomes more hectic in the coming days, I plan to look for opportunities to bring ‘peace on earth’ to my little corner of the world. I hope you are able to do the same.