Everyone has a pet peeve about Christmas. Mine is a little unusual. See, about this time of year, people write articles about the “Christmas Truce” of World War I. It is especially bad this year, as it’s the centennial. This tradition annoys me because as a historian I see things very differently. Remembering Christmas 1914 as the day everyone called time-out on the worst war the world has ever seen is a comforting story, but that’s all it is. A story. The Christmas Truce is mythical. Of course, like many myths, it has some true stories at its core.
Matt Osborne has already done a lot to write about this event at his Great War Blog. I will not repeat what he has written. Go read Matt. And keep reading his blog. It’s great history writing. Christmas 1914 was as Matt writes it: there were peaceable meetings between soldiers on Christmas Day 1914, but it was not a real truce. There was sporadic fighting and soldiers who fraternized were covered by snipers. Fighting had turned by Christmas 1914 because it is difficult to wage war in winter period, everyone had ammunition shortages, and the armies were adapting to the circumstances of trench warfare, where it had taken hold. In the retelling of the tale of the truce, people forget something: in 1914, everyone was a volunteer. They chose to be in the army to fight each other. In the telling of this story, we give ourselves the wrong idea about World War I, and warfare in general.