Word War I Christmas Truce 

U.S. #1205 – America’s first Christmas stamp.

On December 24, 1914, soldiers from both sides engaged in a truce for the Christmas holiday.

As World War I reached a quick stalemate within its first few months, troops on the Western Front settled in for trench warfare. These trenches ran in a continuous line “from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier” with France. In some places, enemy combatants occupied trenches that were only 30 yards apart, which allowed them to communicate with one another.

U.S. #1254-57 – America’s third Christmas issue was also its first se-tenant.

As early as December 7, 1914, a young soldier named Charles de Gaulle was concerned with what he considered inappropriate “fraternal” behavior and blamed the comradery on the lengthy stalemate. As the first Christmas of World War I approached, British suffragists and Pope Benedict XV begged for a day of peace.

U.S. #1321 – The fifth U.S. Christmas issue was the first of many to picture the Madonna and Child.

Pope Benedict XV pleaded for a truce, asking “that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang.” Though the warring nations’ leaders rejected the idea, the troops in the trenches felt differently.

Though a few small truces occurred throughout the month, the first large one came on December 24, 1914, near Ypres, Belgium. As German troops decorated their trenches with candles and Christmas trees, they sang joyful carols. The British troops, in their own trenches just yards away, began singing their own carols.

Germany #B582 – a 1980 German Christmas stamp.

And according to one soldier, “First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing ­– two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.”

According to some accounts, on Christmas morning some German soldiers left their trenches and crossed “No Man’s Land.” As they arrived at the British trenches, they called out “Merry Christmas” in the native tongues of their enemies. The Allied troops first thought it might have been a trick, but when they noticed the Germans were unarmed, left their trenches and shook hands with them.

Great Britain #758-61 – A block of four 1975 Great Britain Christmas stamps.

Soon, men from both sides began crossing “No Man’s Land” to exchange gifts of food, tobacco, chocolate, newspapers, alcohol, and small souvenirs such as buttons and hats. In many parts of the front, artillery fell silent and the field was filled with singing and friendly chats. The break in fighting was also used to recover dead and wounded, who were honored at joint services. Many of the soldiers also took part in football (soccer) matches.

In different areas of the front, the truces lasted through Christmas Day, while others lasted through New Year’s Day. Yet, in other areas, the fighting continued with no truce.

U.S. #1552 pictures the Dove of Peace weathervane from George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

Over the next year, officers on both sides warned against any further truces by threat of disciplinary action. While a few sparse truces were held in 1915, it was nothing compared to the truce of 1914, which involved some 100,000 British and German troops. Decades later, in 2008, a memorial was unveiled honoring the brief peaceful interlude during one of the world’s bloodiest wars.

Click here to see photos from the truce.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. I found this article very interesting, refreshing and enlightening. Thanks so much for all your efforts in teaching us more about our history and its interesting facts.

  2. A great Christmas story! I’ve heard parts of this story over the years, but never one from a historical perspective. There were cease fires’ during the Viet Nam war during Christmas, but nothing like this.

  3. Thank you so very much for this wonderful story! It is especially meaningful in our troubled times of today ! It makes me wonder why we just can’t accept our differences and live in PEACE!
    Happy Holidays and thank you to everyone at Mystic!

  4. Dec. 24, 1968, you could hear the entire base camp sing “Silent Night”. It was said that all the base camps were doing so and could be heard throughout the entire country. Can’t verify that but it was beautiful to hear as my brothers and I sang. And one of the guys was Jewish. Haha. Just bought a calmness to the entire arena. One of my more positive memories.
    As for the article, so enlightening. You don’t have to be religious to envelop yourself in this time of year.

  5. This has always been a special story for me as my father was born on Christmas Day 1914. I also heard similar stories from my great uncle who was in the trenches. My dad served in WWII along with 5 of my uncles, who I am very proud of.

    There is a movie/documentary about this event but I have been unable to find it.
    Happy Holidays to all!

  6. Our political and military leaders on both sides need to listen to our common desire for peace and reconciliation; it’s always the poor and lower classes who sacrifice their lives to satisfy the greed and selfishness of the rich. This is a good story, Mystic. Thanks for sharing!

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