Silent Night: The Remarkable Christmas Truce of 1914 by Stanley WeintraubIt was one of historys most powerful,yet forgotten,Christmas stories. It took place in the improbable setting of the mud, cold rain and senseless killing of the trenches of World War I. It happened in spite of orders to the contrary by superiors; it happened in spite of language barriers. And it still stands as the only time in history that peace spontaneously arose from the lower ranks in a major conflict, bubbling up to the officers and temporarily turning sworn enemies into friends.
Silent Night, by renowned military historian Stanley Weintraub, magically restores the 1914 Christmas Truce to history. It had been lost in the tide of horror that filled the battlefields of Europe for months and years afterward. Yet in December 1914 the Great War was still young, and the men who suddenly threw down their arms and came together across the front lines to sing carols, exchange gifts and letters, eat and drink and even play friendly games of soccer naively hoped that the war would be short-lived, and that they were fraternizing with future friends.
It began when German soldiers lit candles on small Christmas trees, and British, French, Belgian and German troops serenaded each other on Christmas Eve. Soon they were gathering and burying the dead, in an age-old custom of truces. But as the power of Christmas grew among them, they broke bread, exchanged addresses and letters and expressed deep admiration for one another. When angry superiors ordered them to recommence the shooting, many men aimed harmlessly high overhead.
Sometimes the greatest beauty emerges from deep tragedy. Surely the forgotten Christmas Truce was one of historys most beautiful moments, made all the more beautiful in light of the carnage that followed it. Stanley Weintraubs moving re-creation demonstrates that peace can be more fragile than war, but also that ordinary men can bond with one another despite all efforts of politicians and generals to the contrary.
Messages began to be shouted between the trenches. The following day, British and German soldiers met in no man's land and exchanged gifts, took photographs and some played impromptu games of football. They also buried casualties and repaired trenches and dugouts. After Boxing Day, meetings in no man's land dwindled out. The truce was not observed everywhere along the Western Front.
Even at the distance of a century, no war seems more terrible than World War I. In the four years between and , it killed or wounded more than 25 million people—peculiarly horribly, and in popular opinion, at least for less apparent purpose than did any other war before or since., On Christmas Eve , in the dank, muddy trenches on the Western Front of the first world war , a remarkable thing happened. It came to be called the Christmas Truce.
The Christmas truce occurred during the relatively early period of the war month 5 of Hostilities had entered somewhat of a lull as leadership on both sides reconsidered their strategies following the stalemate of the Race to the Sea and the indecisive result of the First Battle of Ypres. In the week leading up to the 25th, French , German , and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into no man's land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in carol-singing.
During World War I, on and around Christmas Day , the sounds of rifles firing and shells exploding faded in a number of places along the Western Front in favor of holiday celebrations in the trenches and gestures of goodwill between enemies. Starting on Christmas Eve, many German and British troops sang Christmas carols to each other across the lines, and at certain points the Allied soldiers even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs. There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a good-natured game of soccer. The so-called Christmas Truce of came only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare.