HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL READERS OF THIS BLOG!
Some time ago I published a regular monthly column linking a set selection of dates in history. The series was popular. I'm busy coordinating the articles into book form. As today is 25 December, here are a number of linked events for that date plus two other December dates. To avoid repetition, I've simply indicated the relevant date in brackets. The three dates for this article are:
4, 14 and 25 December
4(International hug day!), 14 (Christians’ Feast of St John of the Cross) and 25 (Christmas Day and the birthday of Pakistan’s Muhammed Ali Jinnah (in 1876) December
Rarely these days do the British politicians seem to talk about the military and moral morass that’s become modern Iraq – they’re more interested in deflecting our attention elsewhere, perhaps towards Iran. In fact Iraq actually gained its independence (14) from the UK in 1927– so why did we go back? Ironically – or maybe deliberately – Saddam Hussein’s capture was announced on the same day (14) in 2003.
Some leaders fall from grace, others attain thrones, such as the Christmas Day coronations of Charlemagne (800), crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Rome and William the Conqueror (1066), crowned king of England at Westminster Abbey. And on the same auspicious day in 1991 Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as president of the Soviet Union, which was dissolved the next day, heralding the end of the Cold War. A brave man, a brave move.
Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was born on Christmas Day in 1918 and on his birthday in 1977 met Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in Egypt, beginning the moves of peace between those two warring countries and later earning both of them the Nobel Peace Prize.
Most people know about the Christmas Day three day First World War truce in 1914, when the vying forces crossed No man’s land and exchanged gifts. Perhaps they sang Silent Night, which was first performed in Austria in 1818 on Christmas Day. Naturally, the authorities realised it couldn’t last, as it would lower moral if soldiers fraternised with men who they were ordered to kill...
Earlier peace talks occurred in 1918 when Woodrow Wilson sailed for Verseilles (4), becoming the first US president to travel to Europe while in office. At least that president knew where Europe was... A mere 299 years before, on the same day (4), thirty-eight English colonists from Berkeley disembarked in Virginia and gave thanks – starting off the annual American Thanksgiving holidays.
It seemed unthinkable, but Panam, the airline that seemed a byword for trans-Atlantic flight, stopped operations (4) in 1991; the next time you watch Blade Runner you’ll see that Panam adverts are quite prominent in that futuristic movie set in Los Angeles in 2020...
News from the New World had to rely on sailing vessels and was slow until the telegraph was invented and laid across the Atlantic; but if you think that’s an amazing accomplishment, consider the Pacific Ocean – it’s enormous – yet the first telegraph cable was laid (14) across this vast expanse in 1902. Another method of passing messages over great distances was the semaphore, invented by Claude Chappe who was born on Christmas Day, 1763.
Christmas cards and shop windows often feature the Nativity scene – unless you’re in a politically correct country - yet the first such scene was only assembled by Saint Francis of Assisi on Christmas Day, 1223. Surprisingly, the first broadcast (25) of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was only read on radio in 1939, the same day that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was introduced by the Americans, which might have pleased animal lover Saint Francis.
Perhaps some Christmas Day birthday folk felt that they needed to strive harder – certainly that could be said of Sir Isaac Newton, physicist and mathematician (1642), Conrad Hilton, hotelier (1887), actor Humphrey Bogart (1899) and singer Little Richard (1932), among others.
Film producer Charles Pathé was born and actually died on Christmas Day, in 1863 and 1957 respectively. And of course his name lived on with Pathé News. The world’s first Sunday newspaper was The Observer, published (4) in 1791.
It was The Times that reported the first expedition to reach the South Pole in 1911, led by Roald Amundsen (14). The question is, did Nostradamus – born on the same day (14) in 1503 – foresee this event, among others? He supposedly predicted the end of the world – which is probably what it felt like in China on Christmas Day in 1932 when the Ganshu earthquake – magnitude 7.6 - killed about 70,000 people.
More massive loss of life occurred (14) in 1287 when the remarkable Zuider Zee sea wall collapsed, killing over 50,000 people. Less devastating yet quite lethal, the Great Smog of London (4) killed hundreds in 1952 – the word being an amalgamation of smoke and fog – a polluting inheritance from the Industrial Revolution.
Long before the American Revolution of 1776, North America was being colonised and explored by intrepid and religious men and women, among them Father Jacques Marquette who set up a mission on the shores of Lake Michigan (in 1674) to minister to the Illinois Indians (4). The mission became Chicago. That great warrior who fought at the Little Big Horn, Chief Crazy Horse, was born on the same day (4) in 1849, sharing the same birthday as Francisco Franco (1892), dictator of Spain, though fifty-three years apart.
And on the same day in 1872 the crewless ship Marie Celeste was found, like something out of a science fiction movie; it was discovered relatively undamaged, having been abandoned for nine days.
Rod Serling, scriptwriter and the brain behind the science fiction series The Twilight Zone, was also born on Christmas Day (1924). The inventor of the word robot was Karel Capek, a Czech writer, who died on the same day in 1938.
And, finally, to come full circle back to the same part of the world, the Persian poet, astronomer, mathematician and philosopher Omar Khayyám died (4) on the same day in 1131.