The Christmas Truce of World War I: When No Man’s Land Became a Football Field, and Enemies Found Grace

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From Sainbury’s Christmas Truce commercial marking the 100th anniversary of this WWI phenomenon

There was a time when war had rules and etiquette. And even between combatants in the trenches, a shared sense of humanity could invoke momentary pauses in our base desires to fight and kill when under threat.

Like the Ancient Olympics, when hostilities between warring states would cease before, during and just after the Olympic Games, there was a similar phenomenon on Christmas Day, 1914, along the Western Front of the war between the French, German and Brits. This was the first year of World War I, one of the most horrific wars in the history of mankind, resulting in the deaths of some 16 million people. But in those early days of the war, the soldiers still held out hope that common sense would win out.

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Sainsbury’s, the British supermarket chain, created a commercial in 2014 that re-enacted a scene of the so-called Christmas Truce that may have happened in multiple places along the Western Front, where British and German soldiers huddled in cold, dark trenches, waiting for gunshot or snap of a twig to send them into battle.

Based on diaries from soldiers, the commercial’s producer pieced together an archetypal scene: singing of Christmas songs in the night in German and English, a soldier mustering courage to tip toe into No Man’s Land, others discovering their own need to connect with his fellow man on a day where good will toward men was more than just a bible quotation.

In this beautifully told story, the enemies allow their better angels to rise as they greet each other, share song and drink, and consume their nervous energy in impromptu games of football on land already drenched in their comrades’ blood.

Here’s the re-enactment of that holy night 102 years ago today.

May this day be a very Merry Christmas to one and all.