A global hymn makes this season special

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Even on battlefield, legend says soldiers paused to sing

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The cold winds of December had been creeping across the landscape of the territory known as the Western Front for several days. The year is 1914 and German soldiers have been fighting their British and French counterparts for about four months in what was called “The War to End All Wars.”

(Eventually, somewhere in the late 1930s or early 1940s, the terribly expensive struggle would come to be known as World War I.)

Soldiers from all three nations were ready for a break in the action. Somehow, the “grapevine” transferred a message of a temporary peace. There was word coming down of an unofficial cessation of hostilities, even for just a few hours, around the week approaching Christmas.

The fog hung heavy over the battlefields; the military men were uncertain if and when the war would stop.

In a raw and untrained voice somewhere in the distance, people could hear the strains of a familiar holiday song.

Soon, English soldiers were singing the verses of “Silent Night” while Germans joined in with “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht.”

The number of combatants singing this popular Christmas carol grew into a chorus of soldiers who were yearning for peace while accepting their fate as fighters.

As the Christmas Truce of 1914 expanded up and down the battle lines, soldiers from both sides tentatively started to come out of their life-protecting trenches. They approached soldiers from the other side in the area called No Man’s Land, exchanging Yuletide pleasantries as well as whatever bits of food and souvenirs that were available to the men in uniform.

The joy of the moment also led to prisoner exchanges, all in the name of the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

As legend has it, the soldiers soon engaged in games of soccer, an innocent way of burning off energy and aggression. An outsider looking down on the scenes of camaraderie might have trouble reconciling the fact that these soldiers had been fierce enemies only a couple of days earlier.

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