The remarkable events that took place in the military trenches in France on Christmas Eve 1914 appears to be pure fiction, except, it is entirely true. Although World War I was only five months old, over one million soldiers had already died. In certain areas, no more than 30 yards separated the British and German trenches, from which soldiers on both sides killed their nearby combatants. On Christmas Eve, however, a remarkable thing occurred. The holiday spirit took hold.
According to author Archie Bland, it began with Germans displaying lights on top of makeshift Christmas trees. The Germans then started to sing a Christmas carol. The British troops responded with one of their carols. According to British Rifleman Graham Williams, “We then started up “O Come, All Ye Faithful,’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words, Adeste fideles.” Incredible! “Two opposing nations were both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.” The unofficial truce began with enemy soldiers applauding the singing by the opposition.A German officer then yelled out that he would like to meet the opposing British officer in the middle. A British officer responded. The two men met and shook hands. The soldiers on both sides then came out of their trenches and met in the middle, “extending almost the length of their front.” One British Corporal wrote, “We shook hands, wished each other aMerry Xmas and were soon conversing as if we had known each other for years.”
With few exceptions, the truce continued on Christmas Day. They resumed meeting each other, exchanging gifts, mementoes, food and alcohol. According to several diaries and correspondence, the opposing soldiers engaged in a football (soccer) game, won by the Germans.
Officers on both sides feared charges of treason. An understanding was made that the truce would end at midnight. At dawn, the soldiers went back to their respective trenches and resumed killing their opponents. Some soldiers, who were believed to have taken the Christmas spirit to heart, were rotated out. Some 15 million combatants died in World War I.
Sources: “No Glory in War, 1914-1918,” Archie Bland 21 April 2014, Featured Articles, “How true is the Christmas truce when enemies played football instead of killing each other?”; EyeWitness to History.com, “Christmas in the Trenches, 1914.” A News Christmas Truce 120314