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  • Dan FitzPatrick

The Christmas Eve Truce of 1914

First published on December 24, 2022.


It is tempting, these days, when reflecting on the current state of affairs in our nation and the world, to feel a sense of fatalistic hopelessness. To believe that wrong-headedness, selfishness and, yes, out-and-out evil, have reached such a state of irreversible ascendency that hope is futile and all resistance thereto destined to be fruitless. But we would be, and are, wrong in so thinking. The evidence is right before our eyes, if we only choose to see.

Presently, our vision is blurred, intentionally it seems, with respect to the lessons that history might teach us, if history were actually still taught. Yet, true stories do exist in the past which can help dispel the mists of gloom that weigh upon our hearts. And this is one of them.

Christmas Eve, Western Europe, 1914. The world was engaged in a war then unprecedented in scope and mechanized brutality which it seems to have stumbled into (https://gwtoday.gwu.edu/was-world-war-i-avoidable) and which would eventually result in the death and wounding of over 40 million people, many of them civilians. Conditions were ghastly in the trenches from which both sides fought, and the sense of dread and despair was a constant companion. Yet even in this darkest of hours, something truly wonderful happened.

Late that night, soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force in trenches on the Western Front observed German troops in the trenches opposite them singing Christmas carols and decorating small fir trees along their trenches with lanterns. The German soldiers invited their British opponents to join with them in celebrating the holiday. Incredibly, the two sides met in the space between the trenches, dubbed No Man's Land, and shook hands, exchanged gifts, took photographs, and even played impromptu games of soccer. They assisted each other in burying casualties from both sides, and repaired trenches and dugouts. Similar informal, unplanned, and unsanctioned meetings occurred elsewhere on the Western Front. For more information on this truly miraculous event, see:


https://www.history.com/news/christmas-truce-1914-world-war-i-soldier-accounts

https://watch.historyvault.com/specials/the-christmas-truce

https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-real-story-of-the-christmas-truce

If man's sense of humanity can prevail even in the midst of such terrible inhumanity, then there must be hope for us. While prospects are dim for this scenario to play out in the midst of yet another unnecessary war being fought once again in Europe this Christmas Eve, each of us has within us the power to bring some light and peace to the darkness around us. If only for this day, and tomorrow, let's remember the reason for this season. And hear once again the inspiring words of Edmund Sears:


It came upon the midnight clear,

That glorious song of old,

From angels bending near the earth

To touch their harps of gold;

"Peace on the earth, good will to men

From heaven's all-gracious King" –

The world in solemn stillness lay

To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come

With peaceful wings unfurled,

And still their heavenly music floats

O'er all the weary world;

Above its sad and lowly plains

They bend on hovering wing,

And ever o'er its Babel-sounds

The blessed angels sing.

But with the woes of sin and strife

The world has suffered long;

Beneath the angel-strain have rolled

Two thousand years of wrong;

And man, at war with man, hears not

The love-song which they bring; –

Oh hush the noise, ye men of strife,

And hear the angels sing!

And ye, beneath life's crushing load,

Whose forms are bending low,

Who toil along the climbing way

With painful steps and slow,

Look now! for glad and golden hours

Come swiftly on the wing; –

Oh, rest beside the weary road

And hear the angels sing!

For lo! the days are hastening on

By prophet bards foretold,

When with the ever circling years

Comes round the age of gold;

When Peace shall over all the earth

Its ancient splendors fling,

And the whole world give back the song

Which now the angels sing.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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