According to the lore, the Pope proposed a Christmas truce early that December, but leaders of the warring countries refused even to consider it. Each believed, or a least said he believed, that God was on his country's side.
On the night of Christmas Eve, in trench battlefields across France, German soldiers began singing Christmas carols. English soldiers took up the songs in their own language.
As the sun rose on Christmas Day, it is believed that a German messenger proposed an impromptu truce by climbing out of his trench, unarmed, and walking across the no-man's-land that separated his fortification from a British one. The British soldiers watched, amazed, and then stepped warily out of their trenches.
The soldiers, enemies, shook hands. Greetings were exchanged, as well as small gifts of cigarettes and chocolates. Both sides made use of the occasion to bury their dead countrymen. And, implausibly, a soccer game broke out on one battlefield in Flanders.
At the end of the day, the soldiers returned to their battle stations. All of them, German and English, could have been have been charged with treason for their behavior. In fact, a few were shot for participating in the truce, and a number of German troops were transferred to the even more uncomfortable trenches along the war's eastern front.
Fighting resumed on December 26. The Christmas truce was a one-off, never repeated during the other years of World War I or, indeed, any other war.
What the truce demonstrated was the confusion, at every level of the German and British societies, about why the war was being fought in the first place. Historians still struggle to account for the bloody carnage.
The soldiers -- the people who were fighting and dying -- seemed to understand the incomprehensibility best of all. They respected each other and wished each other well, at least for a single day.
Glory to God in the highest, and
on earth, peace, good will toward men.