This year marking the 100th anniversary of World War I, this December also marks the anniversary of 1914’s Weihnachtsfrieden, or Trêve de Noël, or in English, Christmas Truce. This was a period of time from Christmas Eve until Christmas day (longer in some areas), where the front-line troops on both sides began a spontaneous, unofficial cease-fire, much to the chagrin of their commanding officers. Though not universal—some areas continued with hostilities right through the holiday—the event was very broad in scope, with multiple regions independently coming to the same non-violent decision.
The truce primarily happened between French/British and German forces, though there are also reports of an Austrian-Russian truce at the same time. The United States, which officially joined the war in three years after in 1917, obviously wasn’t in a position to participate. Most areas affected by the truce sang Christmas carols across the trenches to one another. In some areas troops were so bold as to venture out into no-man’s land to exchange food and souvenirs. There are also accounts of at least three different football (soccer) matches broke out as well at various locations.
While it seems like a very surprising, not to mention quaint story, according to Tony Ashworth’s book “Trench Warfare 1914-1918: The Live and Let Live System,” informal regional truces were not uncommon at all. They would form complicated agreements not to attack each other at tea or meal-times and patches of the front line would sometimes go days without any casualties at all. According to Ashworth’s book, the most remarkable thing about the Christmas Truce was how widespread it was.
1915 saw a similar, albeit smaller, Christmas Truce and evidence submitted to the University of Aberdeen in 2011 shows reiterations of the Christmas Truce happening as late as 1916.
In subsequent years, perhaps influenced by increasingly violent tactics used (phosphine gas saw some use in 1915, but 1917 saw the widespread use of mustard gas); or perhaps because of the attempts by military officers to keep strict control over their troops in the face of a very gentle mutiny, the Christmas Truce waned into a cheerful historical curiosity.