The Christmas truce, which is known as Weihnachtsfrieden in Germany and in France, Trêve de Noël, was a series of unofficial ceasefires during World War I that took place at Christmas 1914, along the Western Front. Through the week leading up to Christmas that year, groups of German and British soldiers started to exchange seasonal greetings and songs between their trenches. Occasionally, the tension was reduced to the point that individual soldiers would walk across to talk to their opposite numbers, bringing with them gifts. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many soldiers from both sides – including to a lesser degree those from French units – independently ventured into the so called “no man’s land”, where they mingled and exchanged souvenirs and food. As well as the conducting of joint burial ceremonies, several meetings ended in carol-singing. Troops from both sides were also friendly enough to play football with one another.
The truce is often regarded as a symbolic moment of humanity and peace amidst one of the most violent events of modern history. In some regions of the front however, fighting continued throughout the Christmas period, while in others, little more than an arrangement to recover bodies was made. The following year, a few units again arranged ceasefires with their opponents over Christmas but the truces were sparser than in 1914. In part, this was due to strongly worded orders from both sides’ high commands to prohibit such fraternisation. In 1916, following the unprecedentedly bloody battles of the Somme and Verdun, and the beginning of widespread poison gas use, both sides increasingly viewed their opponents as less than human, and consequently no more Christmas truces were sought.
In the early months of immobile trench warfare, truces were not unique to the Christmas period as they reflected a growing mood of “live and let live”, where opposing infantry units in close proximity would stop overtly aggressive behaviour and often engage in small-scale fraternisation such as engaging in conversation or bartering for cigarettes. There would be occasional ceasefires in some sectors to allow soldiers to go between the lines and recover wounded or dead comrades, while in others, there would be a tacit agreement not to shoot while men rested, exercised, or worked in full view of the enemy.
The Christmas truces were particularly significant due to the number of men involved and the level of their participation – even in very peaceful sectors, the sight of dozens of men congregating openly in daylight was remarkable. Although the truces of 1914, either those on December 25th or before the Christmas period that year, are remembered today with much sympathy, were not exceptions when considering similar events in the many warfare theatres that history has recorded. During many previous armed conflicts such spontaneous truces came about probably as frequent and “magically” as was the case during the first year of hostilities in World War I.
Christmas Truce Documentary