Christmas Day 1914

Thousands of troops ceased fire along the front lines of World War I on Christmas Day, 1914, an event described as a miracle in the bloody war.

President Vladimir Putin, on January 5, Instructed the Defense Minister to a ceasefire in Ukraine from 12:00 on January 6 to 0:00 on January 8, on the occasion of Orthodox Christmas. The order was given at the request of Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church.

It is unclear how Russia’s unilateral ceasefire will affect the battlefield after President Volodymyr Zelensky said it was a “trick” by Russia to stop the momentum of Ukrainian forces in the Donbas. 

However, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry announced on its official Twitter account that it is committed to “not shooting in the back” of Russian soldiers celebrating Christmas during the ceasefire period.

Historically, the world had witnessed a “miracle” armistice on Christmas Day 1914, when thousands of British, Belgian, and French soldiers laid down their weapons, stepped out of the trenches, and enjoyed the holiday with their troops.

 German soldiers on the other side of the front line on the Western Front of World War I. This is considered a rare moment of peace in a war that left more than 15 million people dead.

As World War I raged, Pope Benedict XV, who was a sponsor in September 1914, called for a truce on Christmas Day that year but was not accepted by the warring governments.

However, the sadness of fighting in the muddy winter trenches prompted the soldiers of the two warring sides to agree to a truce among themselves.

Historians still dispute the exact details of this event, but most believe that about 100,000 soldiers, or two-thirds of the fighting force, stopped fighting on Christmas Day, 1914.

The armistice seemed to have begun when soldiers in the trenches attended Christmas carols on December 24, 1914. “The night was full of beautiful moonlight, snow-covered everywhere,” said Private Albert Moren of the British Royal West Surrey Regiment.

“First the Germans to their song, then we to ours. When we to ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful,’ the Germans immediately to along to the same tune as the Latin lyrics of ‘Adeste.’ Fideles’. 

I think it is the most extraordinary thing for the soldiers of both countries to sing the same song in the middle of the war,” Private Graham Williams of the 5th London Infantry Brigade wrote in his diary.

The next morning, German soldiers in several areas left the trenches and chanted “Merry Christmas” in English before soldiers on the other side stepped out carefully to greet them. Elsewhere, German soldiers held up signs that read: “You don’t shoot, we don’t shoot.”

Soldiers from both sides exchanged gifts such as cigarettes, food, and hats throughout December 25. The Christmas Day truce also allowed forces on both sides to bury the dead after their bodies had been lying in the dead zone between the two fronts for weeks before that.

Various forms of communication were also recorded along the western front lines. One said that British soldiers had their hair cut by a German soldier who worked as a barber before the war, while another held a pork roast for both sides to celebrate.

The armistice was widespread on the front but not everywhere. Some documents show that the two sides are still fighting at several locations, including at least two cases where soldiers were shot by the enemy while trying to say hello.

The brief ceasefire ended on December 25, in some places after New Year’s Eve. “I miss the silence, the dreadful sound of stillness. It was a brief period of peace in the terrible war,” recalls Alfred Anderson, a veteran of the British Scottish Infantry Regiment.

There were rare moments of peace for the duration of the war, but not on the scale of the Christmas Armistice of 1914.

For many people at that time, the Christmas armistice was not an example of chivalry amid hostilities but merely an act of disobeying soldiers’ orders on the battlefield and protesting against the commanders.

The two sides’ trenches were only about 30 meters apart, making it possible for soldiers to hear and smell the enemy’s food, making it easy for them to empathize with those on the front line.

General Horace Smith-Dorrien, commander of the British 2nd Army, considered it dangerous to keep soldiers close to the enemy.

 He ordered his subordinates to forbid soldiers from “friendly communication with the enemy.” “Soldiers in the trenches near the enemy are easily to lose their fighting spirit and carry a ‘reconciliation’ mentality,” he warned in a memo sent to his subordinates on December 5.

The account of British veteran Murdoch Wood in 1930 confirms this. “The conclusion I held for many years after the war was that no more shots would be fired after that point if the world were to command to let our soldiers decide the situation on their own,” he said.