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Amazing Christmas Truce of 1914

During World War I, on and around Christmas Day 1914, the sounds of rifles firing and shells exploding faded in a number of places along the Western Front in favor of holiday celebrations in the trenches and gestures of goodwill between enemies.

Starting on Christmas Eve, many German and British troops sang Christmas carols to each other across the lines, and at certain points the Allied soldiers even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing.

An unidentified soldier in a trench during the Christmas Truce of 1914

An unidentified soldier in a trench during the Christmas Truce of 1914

At the first light of dawn on Christmas Day, some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs. There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a good-natured game of soccer.
A quiet moment in German trenches during World War I

A quiet moment in German trenches during World War I


Some soldiers used this short-lived ceasefire for a more somber task: the retrieval of the bodies of fellow combatants who had fallen within the no-man’s land between the lines.

The Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare. It was never repeated—future attempts at holiday ceasefires were quashed by officers’ threats of disciplinary action—but it served as heartening proof, however brief, that beneath the brutal clash of weapons, the soldiers’ essential humanity endured.

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Christmas Truce on WWI Battlefield Inspires Theater Show 94 Years Later

The cast of All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914

The cast of All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914

A 2008 national theater production, “All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914,” was based on that historic moment, when an extraordinary night of camaraderie brought the spirit of the holidays even into the darkest of places. Written by Peter Rothstein, with musical arrangements by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach, the presentation features a cast of actors and vocalists who use letters, journals, official war documents, gravestone inscriptions and songs associated with the spontaneous truce to re-create a remarkable sequence of wartime events.

Thousands of men put down their guns and left their trenches to meet their enemies in ‘No Man’s Land’,” said Rothstein, who traveled to museums and libraries in Belgium and London as part of a two- year effort to collect first-hand accounts of the truce. “They exchanged gifts of tobacco, rum and chocolates, even photographs of loved ones. They sang songs, played a game of soccer and buried each other’s dead. Upon orders from above, they eventually returned to their trenches and re-instigated a war that would last four more years.”

That tale, which remains as poignant today as 94 years ago, was re-told on Christmas Day, when “All is Calm” was broadcast to more than 400 public radio stations in the United States as well as on the BBC in Canada, England, Australia, and New Zealand. The production featured members of the Minneapolis-based Cantus vocal ensemble and the Theater Latte Da acting troupe.

That these soldiers chose to honor the spirit of Christmas in the midst of chaos is a fitting reason to revisit their actions, Rothstein said, especially as conflicts continue to be waged across the globe.

It is a story that should be heard, especially today,” he said. “A month before the Christmas Truce of 1914, Winston Churchill (who would go on to serve as British Prime Minister during World War II) stated, ‘What would happen, I wonder, if the armies suddenly and simultaneously went on strike, and said some other method must be found of settling this dispute?’ I hope people leave the theater moved, enlightened and pondering Churchill’s prophetic statement.”

Joyeux Noël (2005)

In 1914, World War I, the bloodiest war ever at that time in human history, was well under way. However on Christmas Eve, numerous sections of the Western Front called an informal, and unauthorized, truce where the various front-line soldiers of the conflict peacefully met each other in No Man’s Land to share a precious pause in the carnage with a fleeting brotherhood….

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The White House Hanukkah Party 2009

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama watch as a child lights the Hanukkah candles at a reception in the the White House, Dec. 16, 2009

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama watch as a child lights the Hanukkah candles at a reception in the the White House, Dec. 16, 2009

Obama Foodorama—December 16th was the sixth night of the Jewish Festival of Lights, and President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted their first Hanukkah party at the White House. The event spilled between the State Dining Room and the East Room, and a Jewish student choir will perform. A very special 19th century menorah was loaned to the White House for the traditional candle lighting ceremony, and it was lit by the two young children of a Jewish soldier deployed in Iraq. The special koshering of the White House kitchen was overseen by Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who heads the Washington office of the American Friends of Lubavitch.

President Barack Obama with First Lady Michelle greets the crowd before his speech at Hradcansky square in Prague on April 5, 2009

President Barack Obama with First Lady Michelle greets the crowd before his speech at Hradcansky square in Prague on April 5, 2009

The sterling silver menorah is on loan from the Jewish Museum in Prague, at the request of Mrs. Obama, who visited when she was touring Prague’s Jewish Town in April, while President Obama was on his first official visit there. The menorah dates from 1783, and is the work of Viennese silversmith Cyril Schillberger. On December 1, Leo Pavlat, director of the Jewish Museum, handed the menorah over to Mary Thompson-Jones, Charge d’Affaires of the Embassy of the United States of America, in a brief ceremony. Pavlat noted that the museum was pleased to loan the menorah to the Obamas, and regarded it as a symbolic connection between the Jewish communities in Moravia and Bohemia and those in the United States. When she was in Prague, Pavlat acted as Mrs. Obama’s tour guide during her tour of Jewish historical sites.

Pavlat and Thompson-Jones during the menorah hand off in Prague

Pavlat and Thompson-Jones during the menorah hand off in Prague

On Dec. 11, the first night of Hanukkah, President Obama sent holiday greetings from the White House, in Hebrew and English:

הצהרת הנשיא אובאמה לרגל חג החנוכה

מישל ואנוכי שולחים את מיטב איחולינו לכל מי שחוגג בימים אלה את חג החנוכה ברחבי העולם. סיפור חנוכה של המכבים ושל הנסים שהם חוו מזכירים לנו שאמונה והתמדה הן כוחות עצומים המסוגלים לקיים אותנו בתקופות קשות ולעזור לנו לגבור על מכשולים כנגד כל הסיכויים.

חנוכה הוא העת לא רק לחגוג את אמונת העם היהודי ואת מנהגיו, אלא להעלות על נס את השאיפות המשותפות של בני כל הדתות. בשעה שבני משפחה, חברים ושכנים נאספים יחדיו כדי להדליק את הנרות, מי יתן והלקחים של חנוכה ישמשו השראה לכולנו להודות על החסד שנפל בחלקינו, למצוא מקור אור בתקופות אופל ולפעול יחדיו למען
עתיד יותר מלא אורה ותקווה

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Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff to President Barack Obama, addresses attendees at the 2009 Hanukkah Menorah Lighting Ceremony at the Ellipse, near the south grounds of the White House

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Rahm Emmanuel White House Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama joined two Rabbis in a cherry picker at the top of the menorah to ignite three oil lamps marking the 3rd night of the eight-day festival

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