a true story

It was Christmas Eve.


The sun had set and cold was beginning to sink down into the soldiers’ bones.

Huddled in a muddy foxhole, they shivered. The fighters hugged their cumbersome weapons. They pulled collars up around their necks, but their tattered, thread-bare uniforms offered little reprieve from the coming night.

Dampness, darkness, dankness.

It was all-pervading.

The brutality of World War I, after all, was nothing they could have prepared for. Nothing anyone could have known. Just a few days prior, in fact, an unexpected surge attack had come  leaving dear friends, fellow comrades, innocent bystanders bloodied, wounded and dead. Too many to count.

Yet the battle raged on.

So, in that foxhole on Christmas Eve, the British sat. Under government orders they waited in that disease-infested, latrine-like trench marking out their battle lines.

That is, until out of the darkness a sudden sound came.

Stille nacht, heil’ge nacht! 

It was a strange sound, a foreign yet familiar sound. Was that a voice? Could that really be…singing?

The British looked dumbfounded at each other. Like a foghorn breaking through the night’s silence, the notes bellowed out again. And they were unmistakable this time. The soldiers strained their ears to hear. The soothing, baritone voice roused them, beckoned them, summoned them from across the enemy’s camp.

Stille nacht, heil’ge nacht! Alles schläft; einsam wacht… 

It was another language, to be sure. But reverberating through that unsympathetic darkness was a comforting sound. They knew that melody. They knew those words.

Warm memories began to flood each soldier’s mind. Crackling toasty fires, hot ale-filled mugs, faces of wives, mothers, children. Pictures of home. One brave, battle-worn British man took a deep breath. At full risk to his own life, he stood. He raised his hands to his mouth and began to belt out an echo to the enemy’s refrain.

Silent night, holy night! All is calm; all is bright…

One by one, soldiers began to sing. Germans, British. British, Germans. It was a glorious sound. A mighty, unlikely, triumphant chorus rising like the illuminating moon.

Stille nacht, heil’ge nacht! Alles schläft; einsam wacht! Nur das traute hoch heilige paar. Holder knab’ im lockigen haar… 

Silent night, holy night! All is calm; all is bright! Round yon virgin, mother and child. Holy infant, so tender and mild…

Was this really happening? Could enemies really lay down arms, raise up voices? Could opposing forces ever sing in unison? Could they ever really join together and carol an anthem of peace?

…schlafe in himmlischer ruh! Schlafe in himmlischer ruh!

…sleep in heavenly peace! Sleep in heavenly peace!

For a brief few hours, these soldiers did. Both sides stood and sang. And at dawn’s early light, they climbed out of those trenches to enter the forbidden no-man’s land to deliver meager offerings of cigarettes, plum pudding, stale rations and a “Merry Christmas”/“Fröhliche Weihnachten” in native tongues.

On this Christmas Day of 1914, for a short while, two enemy camps paused to recognize a greater purpose. They stopped the fight to acknowledge a higher power existed than that of war.

The power of a baby. Of the birth of a Savior.

Jesus brought them together.

Perhaps He might bring us together this Christmas too.


For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6