I had been fighting in this war for a little over a year now, and this was my first Christmas on the front lines. I suppose that deep down I had been thinking there would be something to set that date apart from all the other meaningless days of drudgery that occupies the war life of a grunt. I was wrong, of course, and subconsciously disappointed when there was no confetti and trees and silver balls. I knew it was silly, but I'm still pretty green, and death is the only end of hope; I'm not dead yet.
I woke up that morning with two thoughts simultaneously. The first, was a fleeting hope that I was home again, waking up to discover piles of presents under our tree. That thought was crushed by the sudden realization that I was in the middle of the War to End All Wars, and the day would inevitably be spent fighting. I sighed heavily and shifted my weight slightly to the right: My rifle was cutting into my side. I pulled it out from under me and propped it against the dirty side of the trench.
Most of that morning was spent doing absolutely nothing, as was the norm. I spent half an hour attempting to shave with my bayonet without cutting my throat, then had a breakfast of cold beans out of my helmet. Because it was Christmas, the officers let us have hot coffee. This was cause for much rejoicing. It had been months since our last hot meal. After breakfast it was my turn to take watch, so I marched off, sighing deeply. Aside from the coffee, Christmas had a totally normal war-time day. I stopped trying to make the best of it right then and there.
After my watch-which was completely uneventful-it was late afternoon and was starting to get dark. We had a 'special Christmas dinner' of what looked like cold rabbit, but they told us it was cold turkey. We knew better than to trust them. After a huge wave of complaining about the crap they were giving us, the CO stood up and gave us a grave announcement.
"Late tonight, boys, we're going to take that trench that we've been facing off against for a month now. The game of chicken is over, and it's time to strike. At 0100 hours, it's up and over. Until then, get some rest and be ready," stated the CO in a very high-and-mighty tone.
By then dinner was over and we were lying back down in our positions in the trenches to load and polish our guns. We sharpened our bayonets and tightened our helmets. When we were sufficiently armed, we laid down to wait, more than a little depressed that we would be fighting on Christmas Eve.
At around 2300 hours, we heard someone in the other trench singing, in German. As his lone voice made its' way across the frost-bitten air of No Man's Land, more German voices joined his. I was impassioned by this act, and stood up and begun singing Silent Night in English. My comrades stood up and accompanied mine. One song in two languages rang across the desolate, ravaged French countryside. A German man then jumped out of the trench, his white flag standing out against the dimness of the night. Ore of them came out, and then I jumped out to join them. One of them had a soccer ball, and we gave them hell. The final score was 4 to 2 if I remember correctly. Afterwards, we sat down and played cards, exchanged contraband items we had stolen, and broke out the secret liquor stashes. Shouts of happiness penetrated the night like lighthouse beacon for a lonely ship's crew. "I fold, you sly son-of-a-bitch," said one man, laughing. "Look! This one's got 12 year old scotch!" I spoke a little German, and stuck up a conversation with someone, I think it was the one who had started singing. We played cards and traded things for hours, talking about home and our families and the girls we had waiting back home. He really was an amiable fellow, and I could tell he wanted to be fighting just as little as we did.
The officers came out and broke it up, told us to "stop fraternizing with the enemy". We all returned to our trenches, and an hour later we attacked them.
The officers gave the word to attack, but we refused. "You fuckers, they're our friends. I ain't gonna kill them," said a friend of mine in his loose southern drawl. He was shot for insubordination.
We jumped out of the trenches, screaming our heads off, and ran for the German side. We lobbed grenades high into the night air, reigning down on our friends. The explosions illuminated the carnage as we jumped down into their trench, among the bodies of the people we almost called friends. There was blood everywhere, the bodies laying strew unceremoniously in the trench were covered with it. When we stepped on them, they oozed blood. Some of them were still alive even, blood squirting out of major veins, men screaming in pain at limbs that weren't there. I continued my sweep of the trench, making sure our friends were dead. I found one man still alive, I recognized him as the man I had been talking to just an hour before. I looked him in the eyes and said, "Thanks you for the cigars. I'm sorry." Then I stabbed him in the heart.