Santa's Whiskers

A painting of the burning of the Library of Congress, 1851.
1 A.D. Jesus Christ was born on December 25. At least that is what we all have accepted. The truth is modern scholars aren’t sure of the year of Jesus’s birth (they estimate between 7 and 2 B.C.), and the exact month and day of his 
birth are unknown. In fact, for the first three
centuries of Christianity’s existence, Jesus’s
birth wasn’t celebrated at all. The first official
mention of December 25 as a holiday honoring
his birthday appeared in an early Roman
calendar from 336 A.D.

So why December 25? There are two prevailing
theories. The first is “if you can’t beat them, join
them.” Because pagan mid-winter and solstice
festivals were so deeply engrained in the social
fabric of the time, the best way for the Church
to convert pagans to Christianity would be to
merge the celebration of Christ’s birthday with
​existing pagan celebrations.

The second is “guestimate backwards.” However strange it may seem to us, there was a time
when ancient Jewish tradition, as recorded in ​the Talmud, felt that creation and redemption occurred at the same time of year. Thus, there were Christians in two parts of the world who calculated that if Jesus was crucified on March 25, then he was conceived on March 25, and therefore, nine months later he was born on December 25.

So why the year 0001? The B.C./A.D. (Anno Domini dating system) was not devised by Dionysius Exiguus until 525 A.D. “Anno Domini” means “In the year of the Lord” (Jesus Christ) and Dionysius deduced the first year of Jesus’s life in the following way. He believed that the precessional cycle was 24,000 years (the time it takes the earth’s axis to complete a rotation). And, he believed that the precessional cycle was broken into twelve astrological ages of 2,000 years each. He also knew that there would be a great planetary alignment in May of 2000 A.D. and reasoned that if that alignment marked the end of an age, then the birth of Jesus must mark the beginning of that age 2,000 years earlier. He therefore deducted 2,000 years from the May 2000 conjunction to produce AD 1 as the year of Jesus’s birth, or 525 years before Dionysius devised his calendar.

800 Charlemagne is crowned
Holy Roman Emperor. What
makes him so important?
Known as the "Father of
Europe" Charlemagne was a
Frankish warrior king who
united much of Europe under
the Carolingian Empire. He
forged a vast kingdom through
extensive military campaigns
against the Saxons, the
Lombards and the Avars, and,
as a devout Catholic, he
aggressively converted his
subjects to Christianity and
instituted religious reforms.

His coronation by Pope Leo III
during a ceremony at St. Peter's
Basilica restored the Western
Roman Empire, in name, and established Charlemagne as the divinely appointed leader of most of Europe. It placed him on equal footing with the Byzantine Empress Irene, who ruled over the Eastern Empire in Constantinople. His legal and educational reforms ​sparked a cultural revival and unified much of Europe for the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire.

1066 William the Conqueror is crowned king of England.
Following his invasion of the British Isles and victory over
King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings, William is crowned
king of England at Westminster Abbey in London on
Christmas Day. His 21-year rule would change the course
of European history.

​He brought Norman customs and laws into English life.
He built famous structures like the Tower of London and
Windsor Castle. He gave land grants to his French allies,
which not only permanently changed the development of
the English language (nearly one third of modern English
is derived from French words) but also gave rise to the
feudal system of government that characterized much of
the Middle Ages.

​1492 Columbus’ Santa Maria runs aground and sinks on Hispaniola.
The Santa Maria was the largest of the three ships, with a single deck and three masts. She was the slowest of the three, but performed well in
the Atlantic crossing. After
festivities that included
drinking, Columbus ordered
that the crew continue
sailing to Cuba late into the
night. One by one the crew
kept falling asleep until
only a cabin boy was
steering the ship, which
caused it to run aground
on December 25, 1492.

​Columbus’ voyage resulted
in the discovery of America
and initiated a period of
European exploration and
colonization of the
American continents. His voyage started the first lasting European contact with the Americas, and led to ​the widespread knowledge of the existence of a new continent, for the first time in history.

1582 Ten Days Went Missing. In 1582, in the Dutch
provinces of Brabant, Zeeland and Staten-Generaal,
the people went to bed on December 25, and when
they woke up the next morning it was January 4, 1583.
They had lost ten days of their lives. The provinces
were among the first countries to adopt the new
Gregorian calendar.

The Gregorian calendar reformed the previous Julian
calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC.
Though Caesar had based his calendar on
astronomical data, his scientists had miscalculated the
lunar and solar times, so that by the 16th century, the
spring equinox (which included Easter) was starting
to seem a little wintry, and New Years Day was
​celebrated in late March.

​To deal with this, Pope Gregory XIII assembled a team
of expert mathematicians and astronomers to create a new, official calendar. It would take more than 341 years before most of the rest of the world completed the change to the calendar that we now take for ​granted.

The Gregorian calendar is the most widely used calendar in the world today. For decades it has been the unofficial global standard, adopted for pragmatic interests of international communication, transportation, and commercial integration, and recognized by international institutions such as the United Nations and the Universal Postal Union.

1642 The birth of Isaac Newton. Born on December 25, Isaac
Newton was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer and
philosopher. He formulated the laws of motion and universal
gravitation, demonstrated that the motion of objects on earth and
in space could be described by the same principles, built the first
practical reflecting telescope, developed a theory of color based
on observing that a prism decomposes white light, formulated
an empirical law of cooling, studied the speed of sound, created
the Binomial Theorem and was one of the two creators of

​By many accounts he was the single most influential scientist of
the 17th Century, his work forming the basis for modern physics.
He was the greatest product of the Enlightenment, the explosion
of intellectual knowledge that occurred in his century, a key
figure in the scientific revolution, and widely recognized as one
​of the most influential scientists of all time.

1758 Return of Halley’s 
The comet is best
known of the short-period
comets and is visible from
Earth every 75-76 years.
It is the only short-period
comet that is clearly visible
to the naked eye from
Earth, and the only naked-
eye comet that might
appear twice in a human

The confirmation of Halley’s
prediction of the comet’s
return was made on
December 25th by Johann
Georg Palitzsch, a German
farmer and amateur astronomer. Importance? The confirmation of the comet’s return was the first time anything other than ​planets had been shown to orbit the Sun. It was also one of the earliest successful tests of Newtonian physics, and a clear demonstration of its explanatory power.’s_Comet

1776 Washington crosses 
the Delaware River.
At the
end of 1776 it looked like
the Revolutionary War might
be lost for the colonial forces.
Defeat by the British had
lessened morale, and many
soldiers had deserted the
Continental Army. Desperate
to strike a decisive victory,
on Christmas Day General
George Washington led
2,400 troops on a daring
nighttime crossing of the icy
Delaware River. Stealing into
New Jersey the Continental
forces launched a surprise
attack on Trenton.

The gamble paid off. The colonial forces defeated the Hessians with minimal bloodshed. The audacious crossing of the frozen Delaware river served as a crucial rallying cry for the
​beleaguered Continental Army and Washington would go on to defeat the British. The result was the establishment of a new country, the United States of America.

1851 The Library of Congress burns. By 1814, when the British burned the nation’s Capitol and the Library of Congress during the War of 1812, Jefferson had acquired the largest personal collection of books in the
​United States. He offered to sell his
library to Congress as a
replacement for the collection
destroyed by the British. Congress
Jefferson’s library for
$23,950 in 1815. But a second fire,
on Christmas Eve of
destroyed nearly two thirds of the
6,487 volumes Congress had
from Jefferson, along
​with over 50,000 other volumes.

The importance? With the sale of
his collection to the Library,
Jefferson helped to establish the
​principle of purchasing
acquisitions. ​In the years to come
the Library would be not only the nation’s oldest cultural institution, but it would also become the largest library in the world.  and

1906 First successful radio program of voice and music in the U.S.
Guglielmo Marconi and Reginald Fessenden competed over the best way to broadcast  radio signals to a receiver. Marconi has been acclaimed as the
"father of wireless", and history has accredited
him with the invention of an early form of
radio telegraphy. But on Christmas Eve, 1906,
it was Fessenden who made the first
successful wireless broadcast. The
transmission included a speech, selected
music and Fessenden playing the violin.

That first broadcast, from his transmitter at
Brant Rock, MA  was heard by radio operators
on board US Navy and United Fruit Company
ships at various distances over the South and
North Atlantic, and in the West Indies. The
wireless broadcast was repeated on New
Year's ​Eve. Fessenden, a genius, and a
​mathematician was the inventor of radio as
we know it. today.

Fessenden’s work led quickly to the modern radio, AM and FM. And today radio is a worldwide medium. A source of information, entertainment, politics and news, in homes and businesses everywhere.

1914 The Christmas Truce. World War I, the “war to end all wars,” was underway and on the European front, in Belgium battlefield, British and French troops were entrenched on one side and across the “no man’s 
land” German troops were
entrenched on the other.
Starting on Christmas Eve
scores of the German, British
and French troops laid down
their arms and initiated a
spontaneous holiday
ceasefire not sanctioned by
the officers on either side.
During the ceasefire some
members of both sides met
in the “no man’s land”,
sharing cigarettes,
handshakes, drinks of whiskey, a few Christmas presents and a pick-up game of soccer on the frozen ​battlefield. Eventually the men were called back to their respective trenches to resume fighting. But the unplanned, informal, truce of that day stands as a remarkable example of shared humanity and brotherhood, even on the battlefield.

1926 Hirohito becomes emperor of Japan. On December 25
Emperor Yoshihito dies, and his son, Hirohito, assumes the
throne as the 124th Emperor of Japan, according to the
traditional order. Hirohito's reign was the longest in Japan's
history and he ​presided over a period of significant changes.

At the start of his reign Japan was already the ninth largest
economy in the world, after Italy, the third largest naval power,
and one of the four permanent members of the council of the
League of Nations.

Hirohito was the emperor when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor
and declared war on the United States. He was emperor when
the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
He was emperor during the reconstruction after the war, and
he was emperor as Japan emerged and took its place as the
world's second largest economy.

1968 Apollo 8 orbits the moon. On Christmas Eve Apollo 8’s astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders spent the night orbiting the moon. Upon entering the moon’s orbit the three astronauts 
broadcast back to earth.
As viewers were shown
pictures of the moon and
Earth from lunar orbit,
Borman, Lovell and Anders
read the opening lines of
the book of Genesis from
the Bible. The broadcast
became one of the most
watched television events
​in history.

The Apollo 8 mission was
the first manned flight to
leave Earth’s gravitational
pull, the first to orbit the
moon, the first to view all
of Earth from space and the first to see the dark side of the moon. And, on the return flight, astronaut ​Lovell informed ground control “please be informed there is a Santa Claus.”

First successful trial run of the World Wide Web. WWW is a system of web sites, storage and browsers that make it possible to create, store, search, access, view and modify any information (data) that is connected to the Internet. Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau developed the prototype, 
which consisted of two
computers, a server, a web
browser and several web
pages. On December 25,
Christmas Day, they
successfully tested the

In the years since that first
test, the World Wide Web has
grown to billions of websites
on every topic imaginable.
More importantly, the world
has connected to the WWW
in ways that have altered
how we live our lives, do our
work, and communicate with
​each other. For the first time,
we live in the age of

December 25

Image: A photographic reproduction of Columbus on his ship:

On This Date

December 25th is simply one of the 365 days each year on which events take place. And yet, every once in a while a really important event falls on Christmas. Here are a few that might get you thinking.