Christmas Truce: The Story of the Miraculous Cease Fire

Updated June 22, 2021
Christmas truce

There have been books, movies, and songs dedicated to the idea of Christmas magic, but there's no event that's more imbued with the magic of the Christmas season than the infamous Christmas Truce of 1914. Get swept away by this cinematic tale of warring sides going against their superior's orders and breaking bread on Christmas day.

The Truce Is Requested and Denied

Pope Benedict XV made a request to the warring parties engaged in World War I to have an official truce on Christmas day of 1914 so that everyone would be safe to celebrate the holiday. However, neither side could come to a consensus, and the request for a formal truce was denied. It's important to note that leading officials who decided on this rejection weren't at risk of not being able to celebrate their holiday season, since they weren't actively engaged in trench warfare. Thus, the soldiers on the ground--or rather, under it--had been facing months of harrowing conflict filled with death, darkness, infection, frigid temperatures, and isolation. So, many of them banded together to hatch a subversive plan to have the Christmas celebration that they deserved.

British and German troops make a Christmas and New Year truce in the trenches of the Western Front

Christmas Eve Is for the Rule Breakers

Severely disheartened that the war hadn't ended by Christmas and bolstered by the holiday goodies they'd been sent ahead of time, German and British soldiers began discussing an impromptu truce. Supposedly, the Germans sent the British line a chocolate cake with a note asking for a temporary ceasefire on Christmas Eve, and over 27 miles of trenches were told about the coming peace. Unsurprisingly, leading officials on both sides fought to have these ceasefires ended, but the revelry continued into the early days of January in some areas of the trenches.

On top of boisterous celebrations, the momentary ceasefire let soldiers on both sides collect themselves, rest their weary bodies, and strengthen their hastily built trenches for the years of warfare that were yet to come. Although these celebrations provided a great boost in morale with the British and German soldiers fighting in western Europe, the momentary truce didn't extend to the Russians fighting in the Eastern bloc because they still followed the Julian calender which has Christmas placed in January, and while the war would continue for another five years, there wouldn't be another Christmas truce again.

Soldiers playing football in No-Man's Land

The Truce Takes the Media By Storm

With little else to report, the media industry at the time was frantic over covering the frankly unbelievable story. Small-town newspapers and international publications began reporting on the festivities, with varying levels of accuracy. Some soldiers even got their 15 minutes of fame with these newspaper reporters, such as one officer in a Highland Regiment who wrote to London's The Times on December 28th that, "all this talk of hate, all this fury at each other that has raged since the beginning of the war, quelled and stayed by the magic of Christmas." In the same article, a German soldier was quoted as saying that, "I expect we had a better time than all you poor things at home, who were probably bothering your heads thinking of the chances of war and the discomfort of trenches."

The Aftermath and Its Legacy

The 1914 Christmas truce was a beautiful, fleeting moment of humanity persevering, but it didn't have any lasting impacts on the war itself. World War I would continue until 1919 when there had been approximately 40 million military and civilian casualties, and not one other Christmas truce to pacify the world's growing ire.

This miraculous event harkens to a different time when warfare was far more traditional, and religious practices held greater social weight than they do today. It is highly unlikely in the contemporary global climate that a holiday truce would have been spent between the warring factions of countries today--though, you must never say never. If you're interested in getting granular with the story behind the Christmas truce, there are many books, movies, documentaries, and plays that have tried to replicate the magic. Some of these include the film Joeyux Noel (2005), Terri Crocker's book The Christmas Truce, and the musical All Is Calm.

The Christmas Truce statue

Start Your Own Holiday Truce Tradition

Despite the controversy surrounding the infamous ceasefire, you can glean some important lessons from the event to apply to your own Christmas traditions. Holiday celebrations can be stressful, and they often inspire anger and conflict. A way to honor these soldier's legacy and avoid any unnecessary strife is to declare your own holiday truce by telling your family that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are going to be peaceful. While this may not actually lead to a conflict-free holiday, it might open the door for a really pleasant, shared experience that you and your family will treasure.

Christmas Truce: The Story of the Miraculous Cease Fire