Friday, December 11, 2015

Christmas 1914

We approach Christmas, and we carry on the seasonal narrative of Christmas parties, wassailing, ridiculous gift exchange games, caroling, and mandatory re-runs of the classics: White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, and of course National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. These are all wonderful intermissions between one year and the next, between the grind of daily life and faith, family, and friendship. Interestingly, there is a historical parallel in war intermissions – the truce.

One such truce, the famous Christmas truce of 1914 is similarly surrounded in lore, and today we reflect on the human narrative portrayed in those 24 hours. The severity of WWI war tactics was a shocking shift in the extreme of the human contest. It is in part why the stories of that night and day, some of which are questionable, offer a nice relief from the contrast of the rest of the war. Many resources out there debate the stories about this period. However, one I found helpful was by historian Peter Hart. He captures the essence of it in one Captain’s recollection:

“Not a shot all night: our men had sing-songs— ditto the enemy. He played the game and never tried to touch his wire or anything. At 8:30am I fired three shots in the air and put up a flag with “Merry Christmas” on it, and I climbed on the parapet. He put up a sheet with, “Thank you” on it, and the German captain appeared on the parapet. We both bowed  and saluted and got down into our respective trencheshe fired two shots in the air, and the war was on again!”[1]

I commend Peter Hart’s essay for more background on the story and stories of that time. Subscriptions might be required, or you can find it through academic databases.

Hart, Peter. "Christmas Truce." Military History 31, no. 5 (2015): 64-70.

[1] Hart, Peter, "Christmas Truce." Military History 31, no. 5 (2015): 64-70, p. 70.

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