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:
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
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
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
You tend to feel some sympathy for those people born on
Christmas Day, since they probably only get presents once a year. True,
Christmas is not simply about presents. And we know it’s only the observed date
for the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God – who’s also considered to be a
prophet by Islam – which could be anywhere between four and seven years B.C.
Now that’s really confusing!
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
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.