In 1914 “The Christmas Truce” was a series of widespread ceasefires that took place along the Western Front during World War I around Christmas time. Through the week leading up to Christmas, parties of German and British soldiers began to exchange seasonal greetings and songs between their trenches. The tension in some instances was reduced to the point that soldiers would walk across to talk to their opposing forces.
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many soldiers from British and German units (and to a lesser degree, from French units) independently ventured into “no man’s land”, or the area between trenches. The troops mingled, exchanging food and souvenirs, held joint burial ceremonies to lay to rest those who had died in the preceding days, and many of these encounters meetings ended in carol-singing. Troops from both sides were also in many instances played soccer together.
Though it was not an official truce, approximately 100,000 British and German troops were involved in unofficial cessations of fighting along the Western Front. The first of these truces started on Christmas Eve, 1914, when German troops began decorating the area around their trenches in the region of Ypres, Belgium and particularly in Saint-Yvon.
In some areas the truces lasted beyond Christmas, even past New Year’s Day. Orders to resume fighting were ignored for days, and in some cases, were only followed when there was the threat of court marshal and in some cases firing squads if fighting was not resumed. What does this truce show to us as a people? It shows us the ability, even in the darkest of hours, to find common ground with those we view as our enemy. What this means is that we have the ability to put aside our differences, whatever they may be, and find common ground and peace between two people or two groups. In nearly 100 years we have come so far with the advancement of technology, but I fear we may have lost something of greater value.
In these days where we fight over small trivial things, so often the hate that is created makes it impossible to forgive. We hate because of color, because of creed, because of sexual orientation. We can’t forgive others or accept them for being who they are. So what is it we can look to this truce for and hope to learn? We can learn the value of understanding and the value of forgiveness. If two groups who hours earlier were shooting at one another across a “no man’s land” which was filled with mud, snow, and the blood of their comrades could find peace and friendship, how can we as a people not find a way to create peace over issues in the present day?
If we look to the soldiers and officers who, against orders, found friendships, some which lasted decades after the war, we can, and we should, be able to find acceptance of those who are different, no matter what that difference may be. In this time of year where we welcome a new beginning, let this be the time and the year we welcome peace into our lives and into our hearts.
By Justin Nutt, LMSW, CSW
SJS Staff Writer-Clinical Editor