This story is totally and beautifully true...

The Christmas Truce of 1914

 
 
On Christmas Eve in the winter of 1914, during a war that took eight and a half million souls, a most unusual event took place on the battlefields of Flanders. The British had been in a fierce battle with the Germans, and both sides were dug in and resolute, holed-up in deep, mud-filled trenches that seemed to stretch all the way to Hell. All about them were coldness and dark, the memories of fallen comrades, and the fears of battles to come.

We can't be sure how it started. Perhaps a single German soldier looked up and saw a star. Perhaps he thought of Baby Jesus and remembered the meaning of this night to his troops. But we do know that something that holy night inspired the German troops to put small Christmas trees, lit with candles, outside of their trenches. Then, they began to sing. "Stille Nacht! Heil'ge Nacht! Alles schläft, einsam wacht …"


The British heard the singing and were confused. Could - could the Germans be singing "Silent Night"? They looked across the way, over the icy "no man's land" that separated them from their enemy, and saw the golden fire of candles lighting up trees like winter fireflies. How strange and lovely it must've been to see such a thing in the middle of a moonlit, bloodied battlefield! Through the wintry darkness shone a symbol of Christ!

One of the British must've been the first to begin to sing in response. One man must've heard the Germans' singing and so felt the peace of Christ that he was drawn to join in. It had to start somewhere. But, in any case, soon enough, the Germans across the way could clearly hear their enemy singing the words of a different carol, an English one: "The first Noel, the angels did say …"

The Germans applauded! Yes, they applauded, and then they began to sing a third carol, "O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum…" - to which the British replied with "Adeste Fideles, Laeti triumphantes, Venite, venite in Bethlehem…" Ah, Latin! This the Germans knew, too! They could sing together! And they did, their voices and British voices harmonizing and imploring all, "Come, let us adore Him!"

Then the Germans put up signs in fractured English: "YOU NO SHOOT, WE NO SHOOT". Some British units improvised 'MERRY CHRISTMAS' banners and waited for a response. More placards on both sides popped up. The Germans proposed a Christmas truce, and, all along the miles of trenches, the British troops accepted. In a few places, allied troops fired at the Germans as they climbed out of their trenches, but the Germans were persistent and Christmas would be celebrated even under the threat of impending death.

Soldiers left their trenches, meeting in the middle, in that frosty "No Man's Land," to shake hands. The first order of business was to bury the dead who had been previously unreachable because of the conflict. Then they made gifts of the things sent from home -- chocolate cake, plum puddings, cognac, coffee, butterscotches, tobacco, postcards. In a few places along the trenches, soldiers exchanged rifles for soccer balls and began to play games.

It didn't last forever. In fact, some of the generals didn't like it at all and commanded their troops to resume shooting at each other. After all, they were in a war. Soldiers eventually did resume shooting at each other -- but only after a few days of wasting rounds of ammunition shooting at stars in the sky instead of at soldiers in the opposing army across the field.

For a few precious moments there was peace on earth, and all because men's hearts were filled with the spirit of Christmas. There's something about this holy season that changes people. It happened over two millennia ago in a little town called Bethlehem, and it's been happening, over and over again, ever since.

This season, Deo volente, it will happen again.

 

Advent Customs
Christmas Customs

The German version of "Silent Night" that you are hearing
was recorded by the Steidl Quartet in 1910

 

 

 

 

 

 

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