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The Christmas Truce
“The Christmas truce was a series of widespread, unofficial ceasefires that took place along the Western Front around Christmas 1914, during World War I. Through the week leading up to Christmas, parties of German and British soldiers began to exchange seasonal greetings and songs between their trenches; on occasion, the tension was reduced to the point that individuals would walk across to talk to their opposite numbers bearing gifts. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many soldiers from both sides—as well as, to a lesser degree, from French units—independently ventured into “no man’s land”, where they mingled, exchanging food and souvenirs. As well as joint burial ceremonies, several meetings ended in carol-singing. Troops from both sides were also friendly enough to play games of soccer with one another.
The truce is often seen as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity amidst one of the most violent events of modern history. It was not ubiquitous; in some regions of the front, fighting continued throughout the day, while in others, little more than an arrangement to recover bodies was made. The following year, a few units again arranged ceasefires with their opponents over Christmas, but the truces were not nearly as widespread as in 1914; this was, in part, due to strongly worded orders from the high commands of both sides prohibiting such fraternization. In 1916, after the unprecedentedly bloody battles of the Somme and Verdun, and the beginning of widespread poison gas use, soldiers on both sides increasingly viewed the other side as less than human, and no more Christmas truces were sought.”
David Lowenthal reminds us that heritage is often about faith – particularly a faith in a past that could have, or should have, existed. In recent years, the Christmas Truce of 1914 – which included, among other activities, football/soccer matches between rival combatants on Christmas Day – has become one of the most symbolic moments in the history of human conflict. Of course, historically the Truce was little more than a blip – and probably did not have much strategic importance in the long run. However, the Truce reminds us that even in the most bloody of conflicts there remains the possibility of recognizing the humanity of the other, and maybe that something like Christmas – and what it represents – can inspire a peace, if only temporarily.