In and around a battlefield in Belgium, near the French border, around Christmas Scene one – December 23, late afternoon
A horrific battle is fought between the Germans and the French and Scottish. An attempt by the French and Scottish soldiers to infiltrate the German bunker fails miserably; corpses begin to pile up in the no-man’s land between the three bunkers. Nikolaus is seen violently engagingin combat--stabbing a man to death and growing in despair at the violence. William is shot, Jonathan must leave his brother behind to die.
Scene two – December 23, evening
In the Scottish bunker, Lieutenant Gordon assesses the casualties after the battle. Father Palmer attempts to offer solace to Jonathan in prayer. In the French bunker, Lieutenant Audebert discovers the French General waiting in his makeshift office, who reprimands him for surrendering and threatens him with a transfer. The General leaves and Audebert laments the loss of his wife’s photograph to his aide-de-camp, Ponchel. When he is alone, Audebert tallies the casualties in the last battle, while missing Madeleine and their child who he has not yet seen. He sings of needing sleep, a sentiment echoed by all of the soldiers. As it starts to snow, covering the corpses in no man’s land, the soldiers slowly begin to sleep. Alone in the German bunker, Nikolaus reveals to an imagined Anna his despair about war.
Scene three – December 24, morning
In the German bunker, crates have arrived – and little Christmas trees from the Kronprinz. Lieutenant Horstmayer criticizes the Kronprinz for not sending them more useful presents, like ammunition and reinforcements. He receives a directive from headquarters that Nikolaus has been ordered to sing at the nearby chalet of the Kronprinz, along with one Anna Sørensen. Nikolaus departs for the chalet, excited that he will be reunited with Anna again after many months apart. The French soldiers have received crates of wine, sausages and chocolates from the quartermaster and open them jubilantly. Ponchel, a barber by trade, brings coffee to Audebert and sits him down for a haircut. He is reminded of having coffee with his mother every morning, who lives only an hour away by foot. The alarm clock he carries next to his heart at all times (which shielded him from a bullet in the last battle) rings at ten o’clock every morning to remind him of their daily meeting. In the Scottish bunker, crates of whiskey have arrived from home. Jonathan writes a letter to his mother, not mentioning his brother’s death.
Scene four – December 24, early evening
At the chalet of the Kronprinz, Anna and Nikolaus perform a duet. Following the performance, they steal a few moments on a terrace outside. Anna notices the cruel effect war has had on her lover’s spirit. She has arranged for Nikolaus to spend the night with her and is angry when he says he must return to his fellow soldiers. She vows to accompany him back to the battlefield.
Scene five – December 24, night
In the French bunker, Gueusselin volunteers to infiltrate the German bunker, and with several grenades, sidles onto noman’s land. The Scottish soldiers drink whiskey and play a bagpipe that another unit has sent them, as Father Palmer sings a sentimental ballad about home. The men in the other bunkers hear the song and react to it with sadness, caution and annoyance. Nikolaus arrives; his fellow soldiers greet him with cheers and applause and gasp in amazement at seeing Anna with him. When the song in the Scottish bunker is finished, Nikolaus sings a rousing Christmas song loudly in response and midway through the bagpiper begins to accompany. Emboldened, Nikolaus stands atop the bunker raising a Christmas tree as a gesture of friendship. Against the protestations of their superiors, the soldiers from all bunkers stand. Nikolaus bravely moves to the center of no-man’s land. Gueusselin abandons his plan to grenade the German bunker. Eventually, the three lieutenants, waving a white flag of truce, agree to a cease-fire … but only on Christmas Eve. The soldiers slowly and cautiously move toward each other. They share their provisions, their photos and their names. Anna appears and all of the soldiers are awed by the sight of a woman. Father Palmer has set up a makeshift church and celebrates mass with the men, while Jonathan finds his brother’s body and vows revenge. Father Palmer finishes the mass and urges the men to “go in peace” as bombs explode menacingly in the distance.