In the final weeks of 1914, German and British troops were engaged off and on in battle, as they were stationed a few hundred yards apart on the Western Front. With Christmas approaching, the young soldiers were ready for relief.
It began on the night of Christmas Eve, when German soldiers lit candles on their Christmas trees — not a good wartime move, since the enemy could easily spot their position. British soldiers responded by shooting off rockets and building bonfires.
The Germans began singing Christmas carols, inviting the British to join in. One British soldier called out, “We would rather die than sing in German.” A German soldier responded, “If we had to listen to you sing in German, it would kill us, too.” Throughout the night, each camp listened to the other sing.
The next morning, hundreds of soldiers left their trenches to meet the enemy in no-man’s land, where they shook hands and exchanged gifts of food, candy, and tobacco. Some traded names and addresses. Meanwhile, a soccer game was played between the shell holes and barbed wire.
Both German and British generals spoke out against the truce, fearing that such fraternization could sap the troops’ will to fight. Of course, it didn’t. Fighting resumed the following day. Eventually ten million people would lose their lives in World War I. But on this single day, two enemies put aside their differences long enough to practice peace.
What a great place to begin. What if we called a truce, at least for this season? Imagine if husbands and wives would do this. And brothers and sisters. And in-laws. And neighbors. And co-workers. And church members. What if we made a determined effort to live in peace with one another – even the most contentious among us – just for the season?
If we would try it, we might begin to experience long-term what those embattled soldiers experienced for one day, and what the angels promised the shepherds on that first Christmas night: Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, goodwill towards men.