Today and tomorrow, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, carillons around the world will ring in remembrance of the Christmas Truce of 1914, on the battlefields of the First World War. The playing of “Silent Night-Stille Nacht” will begin at 19:14 o’clock on the Peace Carillon in Mesen, West Flanders, a location central to the Christmas Truce. In total, 99 carillons in 11 countries will play the carol that was sung in three languages by enemies coming together during the truce.
In December 1914 the enemy countries rejected the idea of declaring a truce for Christmas—but at dusk on Christmas Eve, the soldiers in the trenches lived the spirit of Christmas by entering into their own truce. Music, the singing of carols from the German lines, attracted the attention of Belgian, British and French troops, and gradually, tentatively, the two sides joined in song, sharing stories and special food and drink, and swapping momentos. The truce continued on Christmas day with joint religious services, celebrations and help in burying each other’s dead.
The Mesen carillon will start the international 2014 concert with bells donated worldwide after the war, to ring out the hope of peace. This 100th anniversary commemoration will continue on carillons that had rung long (in some cases centuries) before 1914 and on those not yet imagined at that time, including the Oakland University Elliott Tower Carillon dedicated in 2014. The carillon players involved are similarly varied in age as well as nationality and background. Most likely the youngest will be Rosalie D’hollander, the nine-year-old daughter of Geert D’hollander, playing Silent Night in duet with her father on the Bok Tower Gardens Carillon. All the players, usually alone in their playing cabins, may feel less solitary knowing that bells are at the same time vibrating all the earth’s atmosphere in celebration of an embodiment of humanity and peace.