This week marks the 106th anniversary of a remarkable event that took place in France during World War I. Known as the Christmas Truce, & celebrated in song and story, surging with a 1984 recording by folksinger, John McCutcheon.
First, a look at the etymology of the word truce, then onto the Christmas Truce: what some might call a temporary ebb in hostilities, some might call a miracle, & some might call a reflection of the true nature of humanity.
Truce showed up in English in the 1200s, meaning treaty, covenant, or faith. It came from an Old English word that meant pledge, promise, faith or agreement, which came from a Proto-Indo-European verb meaning hope, believe, or trust.
The Christmas Truce was an unsanctioned agreement between German and British soldiers to cross into No-Man’s Land on Christmas Eve &/or Christmas day, where to quote McCutcheon’s song, “with neither gun nor bayonet, we met them hand to hand.” The men sang carols, shook hands, shared food, liquor & cigarettes, played soccer, & traded photographs of the people back home that they loved.
Based on a word meaning hope, believe or trust, the Chirstmas Truce offered exactly that to soldiers who’d spent the previous weeks huddling in muddy trenches, surrounded by the horrors of war. The generals in charge didn’t participate, but a lot of infantrymen did, and not all on that one Christmas Eve. Afterward, soldiers arranged follow-up unofficial truces as the war dragged on, so that all told, up to 100,000 soldiers took the opportunity to lay down their guns & celebrate peace.
Here’s a Christmas wish for more of the same.
If you’ve got six and a half minutes & you’d like to hear John McCutcheon sing the song, you can do so here.
Peace to you all.
Big thanks to this week’s sources History.com, Eyewitness to History, Wordnik, Etymonline, & the OED
I write for teens & tweens, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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