Joyeux Noël retells the story of a well-documented event that occurred on a battlefield in France on Christmas Eve, 1914.
One engagement of the Great War (WWI) involved some 3,000 soldiers from the Scottish, French, and German armies. On Christmas Eve, the German side began to sing “Silent Night.” The Scots answered with a bagpipe accompaniment, and soon all three sides were singing the same song in unison from their trenches 100 meters apart. Imagine them singing together, in three languages, from the same trenches where a few hours earlier they had been killing one another. What a contrast!
Coaxed into peace by the warmth of this universally loved song, the warring sides ventured out of their trenches and agreed on an unofficial truce. In some places along the line, the Christmas truce lasted for ten days. Enemies exchanged photos, addresses, chocolate, champagne, and other small gifts. They discovered that they had more in common than they realized, including a cat that wandered from side to side and made friends with everyone, which both sides claimed as their mascot.
The erstwhile enemies communicated as best they could in each other’s language. The German commander, Horstmayer, said to French Lieutenant Audebert, “When we take Paris, it will all be over. Then you can invite me up for a drink at your house in Rue Vavin!” “Don’t feel that you have to invade Paris to get a drink at my house,” Audebert replied.
The friendship that was forged between the warring sides went beyond mere pleasantries. The morning after the Christmas truce ended, each side warned the other of artillery shelling that they knew was coming from their artillery units. Their newfound sense of camaraderie was so strong that each side even sheltered soldiers from the opposing side in their trenches to keep them from harm.
What brought about this incredible transformation? It all started with a shared love of Christmas music.
This incident reminds us that there is a cure to war, and that is to stop demonizing our enemies and learn to love them, as Jesus enjoined us to do (Matthew 5:44). Everyone needs to love and be loved. If we would each make an effort to get to know others with whom we seem to have little in common, we just might find, as the soldiers on that battlefield did, that we have quite a bit more in common than we realized.
Text adapted from Activated magazine. Used by permission. Images from the movie Joyeux Noel (2005) directed by Christian Carion. Used under Free Use guidelines.