What Was the Christmas Truce?

The Christmas Truce of 1914

British and German troops stand together during the Christmas Truce of 1914-15.
British and German troops stand together during the Christmas Truce of 1914-15.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

One of the first public statements Pope Benedict XV made when he was elected to the papacy was to plea for a truce on Christmas Day. Although the Germans entertained the idea of a Christmas truce, the Allied forces rejected it. Benedict's request fell to the wayside; World War I had begun in earnest.

On the Western front, in the Flanders area of Belgium, the Christmas season arrived amid heavy fighting. Both sides were dug in, and miserable soldiers learned what it meant to live in discomfort and mortal fear. In some cases enemy soldiers fought from trenches just 30 yards (27.4 meters) from one another [source: Rees]. The area between each side's trenches -- No Man's Land -- was littered with corpses. Dead eyes stared back at the soldiers in the trenches from the frozen mud.

All along the front that Christmas, British and German troops received packages. Inside they found notes of appreciation, chocolates, pudding, tobacco and other tokens. In their packages, the German troops received Christmas trees.

The small trees -- tannenbaums, in German -- were sent to the front, replete with small candles to light. On Christmas Eve 1914, German soldiers lit the candles and set some trees upon the ledges of the their trenches. When they began singing, the British troops joined in. Wary, hopeful soldiers began to peer over the trenches.

As Christmas broke over Flanders, a truce was carved from the spirit of the season. Germans held up signs: "You no fight, we no fight." British troops responded with signs proclaiming "Merry Christmas." This Christmas turned out to be a merry one.