Christmas Day is approaching, when we remember and celebrate the birth of Christ and look forward to relaxing and taking some time off work to be with friends and family.
I thought it would be interesting to find out about some other historical events – big and small – that have taken place on Christmas Day in both Europe and the U.S. over the centuries.
Third century – Turkish legend says that St. Nicholas would throw coins down the chimneys of poor women who couldn’t afford dowries (which was essential to marriage at this time) and that this money would land in stockings that were hung over the fire to dry. This is the origin of the tradition of Christmas stockings.
1642 – Sir Isaac Newton was born in Lincolnshire, England, on Christmas Day (according to the Julien calendar, which was in use at that time). As the genius who discovered gravity, he was also a gifted mathematician and scientist who lived to the ripe old age (for the times) of 83.
1670 – The first known candy cane was made by a German choirmaster to help children endure lengthy nativity services. They were all white and inspired by shepherds’ canes. The candy cane didn’t get its red stripes until it came to the USA in the mid-19th century, when a German immigrant started decorating his Christmas tree with the new red and white version.
1776 – During the Revolutionary War, Gen. George Washington crossed the Delaware River on the evening of Christmas Day because he wanted to surprise the other side during their holiday celebrations. This led to both his historic victory and Emanuel Leutze’s famous painting of him and his men in the boat crossing the river.
1818 – The famous carol "Silent Night," known as "Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht" in German, was first performed in the Austrian village of Oberndorf at a Midnight Mass in the church of Saint Nicholas.
1914 – A "Christmas Truce" took place during World War I on the brutal battlefields of France as British and German soldiers stopped fighting to play a game of football (soccer).
Now coming on to the last hundred years, my historical Christmas Day highlights are more about technological advances:
1931 – New York Metropolitan Opera’s first-ever live radio broadcast, of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, was heard on Christmas that year. Since then, there have been more than 1,650 Met broadcasts of over 170 different operas.
1959 – Sony introduced the world’s first direct-view portable transistor TV. Comprised of 23 transistors and 19 diodes, this model was developed based on Sony’s extensive experience in radio technology. In an age when TVs were assumed to be living room fixtures, this device opened the door to personal, mobile consumer electronics.
1983 – Although Disney World had Christmas parades for many years, this was the first time it was televised live and broadcast on ABC. This has now become an annual tradition. In 1999, a nighttime version of the parade was shown on Christmas Day.
1990 – The internet was born on Christmas Day of this year, when the European Organization for Nuclear Research (better known as CERN) in Geneva Switzerland sent the first successful communication between a web browser and server via the internet. This was initially aimed at keeping track of research information stored at separate locations on incompatible computers. However, the internet’s inventor Tim Berners-Lee says, "It just so happens that the web turned out to be the killer app of all time."
Check out lots more interesting Christmas historical happenings at www.onthisday.com.
As we now look toward 2018, I say goodbye this week with a quote from one of my heroes and American founding father Thomas Jefferson: "I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past."
Merry Christmas and God bless America!