This Christmas Eve marks the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce, when French, British, Scottish, and German soldiers unexpectedly laid down their arms and celebrated Christmas together. It was a remarkable event unmatched in its touching display of humanity despite the horrors surrounding them. A few years ago, I wrote about Silent Night, a book by Stanley Weintraub that chronicled the events of this truce. I want to highlight this article again here and encourage you to soak in some of these remarkable details of this incredible event. Tomorrow I will write a little more about the truce and what it should mean to all of us.
Stanley Weintraub’s Silent Night isn’t a book that warrants a long review because the point is so clear. The book is about the World War I Christmas Truce. All over the front lines in Europe in 1914, men laid down their arms and remembered the Prince of Peace. During and afterwards, many wondered why they were fighting in the first place. Weintraub’s book retells the events of “horror taking a holiday” over Christmas on the front lines through soldiers’ personal recollections and other reports.
On June 28, 1914, Bosnian-Serb student Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. The murder triggered a fast-paced series of events that ultimately led to what we now call World War I. On one side were the Entente Powers: France, the United Kingdom, and Russia; on the other side were the Central Powers: Germany and Austria-Hungary. By August 1914, the countries were engaged in total war the likes of which had never been seen on earth – trench warfare. On the front lines, opposing men were separated at times by less than 100 feet, living in filthy trenches dug into the ground. Both sides believed that the war would be over quickly, but as December 1914 approached such a resolution seemed much less likely. Soldiers excited of the prospects of war glory quickly lost their initial enthusiasm in favor of sheer survival. But as Christmas eve approached, an unlikely truce was forged by troops all across the front lines. Much was learned when those who only knew their enemies through propaganda and caricatures actually conversed with their foes.