1. Not only do we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day but Isaac Newton the brilliant English scientist who first identified what gravity actually was, was also born on Christmas Day in 1642. This is in accordance with the calendar being used at the time. In addition to his famous “discovery” of gravitational forces, he was also a pioneering mathematician and researcher in the field of optics. His contributions to humanity through the sciences and philosophy simply can’t be overstated. Considering all his contributions, the birth of this amazing man could even be considered a Christmas gift to mankind.
2. George Washington Crossing the Delaware River in 1776 – During The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), also known as the American War of Independence, George Washington (an American soldier who went on to become the first president of the United States of America) crossed the icy Delaware river – this was the first move in a surprise attack organized by Washington himself on the night of December 25-26. The plan was to catch the Hessian mercenaries (employed by the British military) by surprise, in the midst of their holiday celebrations. The battle was immensely successful. Only three Americans were killed and six wounded, while 22 Hessians were killed with 98 wounded. The Americans also captured a 1,000 prisoners and seized muskets, powder, and artillery. That day, Washington and his men won an outstanding Christmas victory, which went down in the American history books.
3. The Song ‘Silent Night’ Was Performed For The First Time in Public (1818) – ‘Silent Night’ is a traditional holiday carol that has been sung during the Yuletide season for close to 200 years now. Yule time is a festival observed by the historical Germanic peoples that went through a Christianized transformation and is now better known as Christmastide or Christmas season. Silent Night is a hauntingly beautiful song, evocative of the deeper meanings beneath modern-day Christmas consumerism.
The carol, known as ‘Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht’ in German, was first performed in the Austrian village of Oberndorf on Christmas Eve in 1818, at a Midnight Mass in the church of Saint Nicholas. From that special moment on, this lovely carol was engraved into the soul of Christmas.
4. President Andrew Johnson Pardons All Confederate Soldiers (1868) – The American Civil War was a bloody affair. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians lost their lives in this epic struggle. When peace finally came, there was a lot of debate about wartime reparations, rebuilding the South, and what should be done with the Confederate soldiers.
After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, President Andrew Johnson decided to pardon most of the Confederate soldiers who applied for amnesty. Toward the end of his term, the president went even further. On Dec. 25, 1868, he pardoned every single Confederate military participant, thus helping heal a deeply wounded nation.
5. During the Christmas of 1914 (World War 1), a truce was held between Germany and the UK. This was a series of widespread but unofficial ceasefires that took place along the Western front during World War I during Christmas of 1914.
In fact On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary break from the war for Christmas celebrations. The warring countries refused to create any official cease-fire, but on Christmas the soldiers in the trenches declared their own unofficial truce.
At the first light of dawn on Christmas Day, some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs. There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a friendly game of soccer.
The Christmas truces were particularly significant due to the number of men involved and the level of their participation — and was seen as a symbolic and iconic moment of peace and humanity amidst one of the most violent events of human history. Especially because before the war began, a lot of people anticipated that it would be over in time for Christmas. This was the “short-war illusion.” Clearly that didn’t happen but what followed was a four and a half year war that claimed atleast 10 million lives. A cease-fire such as this was never repeated— and future attempts at holiday ceasefires were quashed by officers’ threats of disciplinary action—but it did serve as proof, however brief, that beneath all the bloodbath, humanity endured.
6. In 1918 and for the past 40 years, the Canadian province of Nova Scotia has been sending the city of Boston a giant Christmas tree as a thank you for their support after the 1917 Halifax explosion. On December 6, 1917 at 9:04:35 am, the Halifax Explosion severely destroyed much of the city. Boston authorities learned of the disaster by telegraph, and quickly organized and dispatched a relief train around 10 pm to assist survivors. Nova Scotian children study the explosion in school and they know “Boston was one of the first responders, and really a lifesaver.”
7. The Nazi party tried to turn Christmas into a nonreligious holiday celebrating the coming of Hitler, with Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus replaced by Odin the “Solstice Man” and swastikas on top of Christmas trees. This was because they wanted to bring the celebration of Christmas in line with Nazi ideology. The Jewish origins of Jesus was troubling for Nazi racial beliefs and between 1933 and 1945, government officials attempted to remove these aspects of Christmas from civil celebrations and concentrate on the pre-Christian aspects of the festival.
8. Apollo 8 Reached the Moon’s Orbit (1968) – On Christmas Eve, 1968, the American manned space mission, Apollo 8, reached the moon’s orbit. Apollo 8 was the first piloted spacecraft of any kind to break free from the Earth’s orbit and then circle around another celestial body. In honor of the historic event, the astronauts aboard the ship sent out a special live Christmas Eve broadcast, complete with images of the Earth and the moon, along with readings from the book of Genesis.
9. During World War II, The United States Playing Card Company joined forces with American and British intelligence agencies to create a very special deck of cards. The US playing card company ‘Bicycle’ manufactured a deck of playing cards during WW2. This deck of cards became known as the “Map Deck.” It was made by hiding maps of top-secret escape routes between the two paper layers that make up all modern playing cards. When soaked in water, these decks could be peeled apart to reveal hidden maps that allowed escaping prisoners to find their way to safety. These cards were Christmas presents for all POWs in Germany. The Nazis were none the wiser!
10. Charlie Chaplin Passed Away (1977) – Charlie Chaplin, one of the most famous comedic actors to have ever lived, died in 1977 on Christmas Day. The beloved film icon passed away in his sleep at the age of 88 at his home in Switzerland. In 1978 Chaplin’s corpse was stolen from its grave and was not recovered for three months; he was re-buried in a vault surrounded by cement.
Charlie was a pioneering actor and director in the era of silent film. He was known for classic cinema gems like ‘Kid Auto Races At Venice’ (1914), ‘The Tramp’ (1915), ‘The Great Dictator’ (1940) and many others. Chaplin was a physical comedy genius, who at the height of his fame, was loved all over the world.
11. USSR Invades Afghanistan in 1979 – Did you know that before the United States ever put forces on the ground in Afghanistan (America’s longest war), the Soviet Union fought a war in the country first? On December 24 and 25, 1979, the USSR began its deployment of military hardware and personnel into the volatile region. The Russians and their allies chose this time of year to enter the country because the rest of the world was busy celebrating Christmas, which delayed the diplomatic responses of the Western powers to the military incursion.
12. Mikhail Gorbachev Resigned as Soviet President (1980)- Long before Al-Qaeda was ever on the United States bad guy radar, the Soviet Union (now broken up into Russia and other republics) was considered America’s most formidable enemy. That all changed back in the late 1980s, with the open policy of Glasnost (The Russian word glasnost, translated as “openness,” refers to the Soviet policy of open discussion of political and social issues). Glasnost led to more freedom, and the eventual disintegration of the Soviet Union. With the resignation of Mikhail Gorbachev, president of the USSR and the chief architect of Glasnost, the trend became irreversible. Mikhail quit his post on December 25th, 1991. His political legacy changed the balance of world power forever.
13. Christmas Day, 1990, The Internet Got Its First Test Run – It’s hard to imagine that the internet hasn’t been around since the beginning of time, but it hasn’t. The internet actually got its first test run in 1990, on Christmas Day. It was a special moment, indeed, when info.cern.ch, the planet’s first web server, was up and running.
It all began when a software consultant named Tim Berners-Lee at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (better known as CERN) hatched a plan for an open computer network to keep track of research at the particle physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Web was not an overnight success. In fact, it took nearly two years before Berners-Lee—with help from CERN computer scientist Robert Cailliau and others—on Christmas Day 1990 set up the first successful communication between a Web browser and server via the Internet.
14. During the Christmas of 2010, the Colombian government covered jungle trees with lights. When FARC guerrillas (terrorists) walked by, the trees lit up and banners asking them to lay down their arms became visible. 331 guerrillas re-entered society and the campaign won an award for strategic marketing excellence.
15. Charles Dickens grew up during a ‘Little Ice Age’ which is the name given to the period of time from the the 16th to 19th centuries (mid 1500s to 1800s) and BECAUSE it snowed for each of his first 8 Christmases, it influenced his writing and thereafter today’s tradition of a ‘White Christmas’. So the next time you hear the words “White Christmas,” think back to the cold and snow of the Little Ice Age and thank climate (and literature) for creating this cozy Christmas tradition.