1914: "Christmas Truce" observed
Soldiers on the Western Front laid down their arms this evening in observance of the Christmas holiday. The "Christmas Truce," as it has been referred to, was proposed by Pope Benedict XV earlier in the month but was roundly rejected by commanders on both sides. Although the first denial had come from the Russians, whose Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 7, eventually all sides refused to honor the truce.
Despite their commanders' refusal to honor the day, soldiers in the trenches on the Western Front embraced the truce by singing Christmas carols to each other across the area known as "no man's land." "[Foreign Legion officer Phil Rader said,] ‘We had been in the trenches for twenty consecutive days, before Christmas dawned. For twenty days we had faced that strip of land, forty-five feet wide, between our trench and that of the Germans that terrible no man's land, dotted with dead bodies, criss-crossed by tangled masses of barbed wire,’" reported The Sheboygan Press on March 25, 1915. "‘Thoughtlessly I raised my head, too. Other men did the same. We saw hundreds of German heads appearing. Shouts filled the air. What miracle had happened? Men laughed and cheered. There was Christmas light in our eyes and I know there were Christmas tears in mine. There were smiles, smiles, smiles, where in days before there had been only rifle barrels.’"
NOTE: Soldiers emerged from both sides of the trenches and entered no man's land, exchanging gifts, singing songs and in at least one area, playing a game of soccer. Groups of soldiers removed the bodies of their fallen comrades behind the lines, and for a brief time, were able to leave the war and rejoin civilization as they had once known it. Unfortunately, the war resumed the following day and where there had been smiles and songs the day before, there were again only the sounds of artillery and machine gun fire.