There were many hugs -- many smiles and many tears.
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German soldiers at the right are still laying down their rifles as troops from both sides share a Christmas tree and small gifts in a front line trench a century ago, on Dec. 24, 1914.
The day the killing stopped
December 21, 2014
By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2014, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2014, The Post-Standard
Of all the myths that captivate historians, the one that seems most improbable is the Christmas Truce of World War 1. The notion that soldiers who had just been firing at each other would shake hands and even hug one other to celebrate Christmas seems too hard to believe.
Yet it happened. The story is true.
It took place 100 years ago, on Christmas Eve, 1914. An estimated 100,000 soldiers from the armies of Britain and Germany laid down their guns and walked across the no-man's land between their defensive trenches, some with their arms open wide as if they wanted to hug their enemies on the other side.
They had been singing Christmas carols to each other the day before. Although many were wary, soldiers on both sides shook hands, traded little gifts of candy and chatted about the families they left back home.
And there were many hugs, many smiles and many tears. Somebody found an old rugby ball and started kicking it around. Within minutes, soldiers formed teams, each side made up of friend and foe playing together.
German troops still in the trenches held up signs. "You no fight, we no fight," one of them read. "It was," said an English officer later, "one of the happiest days of my life."
In some areas along the front, soldiers from both sides stood together to pray. They lit candles and sang some of the most well known carols. "Silent Night," an old German carol known to everyone, was a favorite.
All was calm indeed. The truce lasted along some parts of the front all the way through New Year's. At other points, guns kept silent only through Christmas Day. But the truce was what mattered, not how long it lasted. It lit up a dark corner, if even for a day.
You can say this is evidence of the insanity of war. I won't argue with you.
But sometimes we judge each other too quickly. The majesty of Christmas can't be quantified. It can't be measured in bullets or trenches. It's revealed in tears, in the strength of our spirits. In the promise of love, no matter how impossible it seems.
For some, the truce ended just as strangely as it started.
"At 8.30 I fired three shots in the air and put up a flag with 'Merry Christmas' on it," an English captain wrote. The German soldier he had been exchanging gifts with held up a sheet with "Thank you" on it.
"We both bowed and saluted and got down into our respective trenches, and he fired two shots in the air, and the War was on again."
More than 36 million people died in that war, most of them after the Christmas Truce.
Al Fasoldt believes Christmas is a time to reflect on things more important than technology. You can write to Al at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.technofileonline.com.