This year marks the centennial of the Great War, more commonly known today as the World War I (WWI), which began on July 28, 1914. Through Remembrance Day here in Canada and other celebrations performed around the world, one can hardly forget such phrases as never again and lest we forget, or the seminal poem “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. This Christmas marks what, in my humble opinion, is one of the more significant centennial events from the whole WWI conflict, the Christmas Truce.
The widespread Christmas Truce primarily occurred in 1914 on Christmas Eve and Day, when soldiers on the Western Front (primarily between the Germans and the British) began to exchange seasonal greetings, songs, and as tensions eased soldiers were able to enter no man’s land where they mingled and fraternized in merriment. They exchanged gifts and played games.
While these events may have come and gone quickly in the grand scheme of WWI, I believe they are significant nonetheless. For just one day, these soldiers put down their weapons of war and rediscovered their individual humanity. Even with language barriers between many of them, they were able to come together in brotherhood to celebrate common traditions in peace with one another. Despite the differences of these waring nations, this conflict was not an argument between these individuals.
Perhaps I am being naive, but these events signal a glimpse of hope for humanity, albeit small, despite all of our differences. I have seen this, too, in my own travels around the world, where despite my differences with others, as individuals we can typically find a way to get along. Why can’t we do so as nations? The majority of us, regardless of where we live, merely want to go about our daily lives in pursuit of happiness with our family, friends, and in how we make a living. If we could look at each other as individuals through our commonalities, instead of through the artificial divisions created to conquer us, perhaps peace might really have a chance. Again, perhaps I am being naive?
While Christmas Day 1914 is one of the most remembered and romanticized of the unofficial truce events during WWI, it continued to occur for brief periods throughout war years. Canadian Private Ronald MacKinnon wrote home in 1916 about a similar Christmas truce event along the German line. In response to these truces, commanding officers would often order attacks during holiday events or discipline soldiers for their non-cooperation, especially as tensions along the front lines grew.
WWI truly was a horrible, bloody, fratricidal conflict and it is common, even today, to romanticize war, but why not romanticize peace, too? I know I will be remembering these brave soldiers on Christmas Day this year and I hope you will join me in doing so. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!
Author’s Note: This article was originally published in the London Free Press on December 12, 2014. Written by Jon Kostyniuk. Original image taken from Illustrated London News – Christmas Truce 1914, Wikipedia, Public Domain.