Christmas in the Trenches: The “Silent Night” Truce

by Mary Ann Stewart on November 21, 2010

After months of deadly trench warfare, on Dec. 24, 1914, German and British soldiers in Belgium suddenly ceased hostilities and, through the singing of carols, celebrated Christmas together. This film documents their spontaneous musical truce with eyewitness reports, proving that "people who make music together cannot be enemies, at least not while the music lasts" (Hindemith). 
The Christmas Truce DVD, available from Music in Motion, documents this incredible event, when music transcended the ravages of war to unite foes in a spirit of common  humanity to discover true meaning of Christmas.

American folk singer John McCutcheon immortalized the 1914 Christmas truce in his moving ballad, “Christmas in the Trenches”:

I heartily recommend the following illustrated book for children, which tells the true story of the Christmas Truce in a language children can understand:

IN FLANDERS FIELD HB

In Flanders Field

By Norma Jorgensen and Brian Harrison-Lever. On Christmas morning, the guns stop firing. A robin is caught in the barbed wire of no-man’s land on the front. The soldier makes a choice that transforms into a peaceful moment of sharing Silent Night across enemy lines. The famous World War I title poem of John McCrae is a fitting conclusion to this illustrated book for children.
Hardback 2496  $16.95 (available at Music in Motion)

Also recommended is The Story of Silent Night DVD. It recounts the history of the carol Silent Night and includes a re-enactment of a spontaneous World War II music-induced Christmas Day truce between the Germans and Americans, similar to the WWI Christmas truce at Flanders Field:

STORY OF SILENT NIGHT DVD

The Story of Silent Night DVD

A live-action retelling of how the best-loved carol was written on a snowy night in 1818, and how it has affected generations since. Filmed in an Austrian winter wonderland, it features the Vienna Boys Choir.
The transcendent power of music is revealed in a deeply moving (and true) episode on Christmas Eve during World War II. American and German soldiers lay down their arms for a shared moment of peace, uniting their voices in this universal carol. For all ages! 80 min. DVD 5491  (avail. at Music in Motion)

Personal Note: My young nephew just shipped to Afghanistan. My thoughts and prayers are with him and all the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and wherever lives are at risk in battle. May the spirit of the “Silent Night” Christmas truce be with them. "People who make music together cannot be enemies, at least not while the music lasts" (Hindemith). (Oppressive dictators have always known this, which is why music is often banned in times of repression, as it was under Taliban rule of Afghanistan and during Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China.)

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Teresa Burke. November 30, 2010 at 5:35 pm

I think this is one of the most thought provoking ballads I’ve heard in a long, long time; I love the strains of “The Minstrel Boy” running through it; really beautiful, thank you. And God protect all the men and women who serve their countries in far off dangerous regions especially at Christmas.

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