Christmas Truce in No Man’s Land – December 1914

Men from the Royal Dublin Fusiliers meet their German counterparts in no man's land somewhere in the deadly Ypres Salient, December 26, 1914. (Smithsonian Magazine)

The famous (and at one time infamous) story of the Christmas Truce of World War I is one of the most indelible and inspiring stories in history. In December of 1914, a group of Germans in the trenches of “No Man’s Land” lit festive fires in their trenches, began singing Christmas carols, and sending wishes of a “Merry Christmas” to their adversaries on the other side.

In spite of its inspiration, the event (at the time) was highly controversial and a military logistical nightmare:

Their truce–the famous Christmas Truce–was unofficial and illicit. Many officers disapproved, and headquarters on both sides took strong steps to ensure that it could never happen again.

Later, in a letter home, an English soldier recorded the event in detail for his family:

‘Come out, English soldier; come out here to us.’ For some little time we were cautious, and did not even answer. Officers, fearing treachery, ordered the men to be silent. But up and down our line one heard the men answering that Christmas greeting from the enemy. How could we resist wishing each other a Merry Christmas, even though we might be at each other’s throats immediately afterwards? So we kept up a running conversation with the Germans, all the while our hands ready on our rifles. Blood and peace, enmity and fraternity—war’s most amazing paradox. The night wore on to dawn—a night made easier by songs from the German trenches, the pipings of piccolos and from our broad lines laughter and Christmas carols. Not a shot was fired.

To read more about the famous Christmas Truce, see the article on the Smithsonian Blog.

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