This week marks the hundredth anniversary of the Christmas truce of the First World War.
In the summer of 1914, the German army advanced into French territory, but after initial success, the Germans found themselves being pushed back by the French and the British who had come to their aid. The Germans dug trenches to keep from getting pushed back farther, and the British and French dug their own trenches parallel to the German ones.
In December of 1914, the two sides were still sitting in their trenches, which in some places were less than a hundred yards apart.
Neither side wanted to fight on Christmas Day, so the guns went silent for a while. And in the silence, someone started singing “Silent Night.” “Silent Night” is pretty much the same song in both English and German, and the two sides together started singing hymns celebrating the birth of the Christ.
Some brave British souls climbed out of the trenches to offer Christmas greetings and Christmas puddings to their German enemies. The Germans responded by giving the British soldiers gifts of their own. According to the soldiers, in some places the two sides played impromptu games of soccer in no man’s land between the trenches.
In some places the Christmas truce lasted for more than a week, but eventually the officers managed to get their soldiers back to the important business of war. The man in the trench, however, knew in his heart that his enemy was a man just like him. A man who desperately wanted to celebrate Christmas.
Celebrating the birth of Jesus allowed these men to put aside the war for a brief moment. It allowed them to recognize that Christmas is about reconciliation. God became man to reconcile men to himself, which allows men to be reconciled to each other. At the first Christmas, the angels announce peace on earth. They announced the birth of the Prince of Peace.
Someone might argue that the Christmas truce was merely the product of a shared cultural worldview. Similar Christmas songs and similar holiday traditions made it possible for the two sides to stop fighting. Perhaps, however, shared cultural values led to the fighting. Jingoistic nationalism, shot through with Social Darwinism, encouraged these nations to slaughter each other in the trenches. The fact that Christ has come allowed these men to transcend their nations’ cultural arrogance for a brief period.
But the truce ended, and fighting resumed. It’s not really practical to live in a perpetual state of Christmas celebration. Life has to get back to normal, doesn’t it?
Remembering this brief truce from a hundred years ago helps fill us with the Christmas spirit. Many of us will celebrate with family and friends, laying aside differences for the sake of good cheer.
But as life gets back to normal, let us remind each other that a day will come when Christ will come a second time. And in that day, the celebration will be unending. Normal life will become perpetual peace and good cheer with God. The seed of peace that the angels announced over two-thousand years ago will flower eternally when Jesus reigns forever and ever.
I hadn’t seen the Sainsbury ad commemorating this event when I wrote the post. Thanks to my colleague Craig Ferrell for pointing it out.
Here’s mini-documentary on the making of the ad.