It was the first winter of the Great War. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, 1914. Along several sections of the front, the artillery fell silent. Men mired in opposing trenches, in places just a few yards from each other, stopped shooting. They exchanged Christmas greetings, pictures, cigarettes and songs. Some informal soccer games broke out.
There are several fine websites devoted to the Christmas Truce. This essay on firstworldwar.com, this BBC site, this historical site, and this fascinating site devote to the truce, which has a stunning collection of firsthand accounts...
"On Christmas Day we had a lot of firing over us, and shells too. All at once it ceased and I looked up and saw the Germans on top of their trenches shouting to us, and asking us to meet them. All our brigade went, and we were talking to them about two hours. They asked us not to fire that day and said they would not; and no firing was done until next day and then we were fighting for all we were worth" - From Sergt Blundell, 1st Beds Regiment.
If you have an interest in the Christmas Truce, check out this site. The sheer volume and variety of letters from the trenches is astounding. Some tell of a brief truce, some mention it lasting for days. There are horror stories of comrades rising from the trenches and getting shot down, but dozens of wide-eyed tales of friendly meetings with Germans in no-man's land.
Writer and director Peter Rothstein has put together a theatrical concert and musical radio drama based on those letters, "All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914." Actors John Catron, David Roberts, and Alan Sorenson portray several dozen characters, and the male vocal ensemble Cantus sings arrangements by Erik Lichte and Timothy C. Takach.
Cantus and the cast performed an excerpt at the 2008 Twin Cities theater awards, the Ivey Awards:
To hear Julie Amacher hosting the full American Public Media radio drama, click here.
And to hear the Christmas Truce segment of Performance Today from our Christmas Eve show, click here.
25 years ago, folk singer-songwriter John McCutcheon wrote what has become a legendary song in folk circles, "Christmas in the Trenches." Here's John with a recent performance.
I'm sorry, but I am unmoved by the storied Christmas Truce. The problem is not the story itself, but the afterword: when it was over, the same men, most of them believing themselves to be Christians, went back to slaughtering one another for a cause that most of them knew only dimly, if at all. The Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," contains no exception. Would Jesus believe that the soldiers learned His teachings during that Christmas Truce? I doubt it—or, at least, I hope not.
Posted by Steven Finell | December 24, 2008 2:12 PM