9 Globe-Altering Historical Events That Happened During Christmas

Christmas-day discoveries, decisions, and disasters that had an impact on how the world played out
December 22, 2018 Updated: December 27, 2018

From Columbus’ shipwreck to George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware, there have been a lot of world-changing events that took place during Christmas, the most wonderful time of the year. Read on to see these 9 fascinating things that also happened on December 25.

9. Columbus’ Santa María sinks, 1492

Of all three ships that sailed on Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the New World, the flagship Santa María was the largest and slowest. During the return trip on Christmas Eve in 1492,  the ship, attended by an amateur crewman, was carried onto a sandbank and ran aground off modern-day Haiti. Columbus decided that the ship was beyond repair and ordered his men to salvage the timbers, which were then used to build a small fort named La Navidad, meaning Christmas. Fortunately for Columbus, he was able to return to Europe on Niña.

© Public domain

8. First predicted return of Halley’s Comet, 1758

English Astronomer Edmond Halley, after examining reports of a comet approaching Earth in 1531, 1607, and 1682, concluded that these three comets were actually the same comet returning over and over again. He predicted the comet’s next return would occur in 1758. Having died in 1742, Halley didn’t live to see the comet’s return, yet German astronomer Johann Georg Palitzsch did observe the comet on Christmas 1758, proving Halley’s prediction right. The comet is now in his namesake.

© Public domain

7. Charlemagne is crowned Holy Roman Emperor 800

By 800 AD,  Charles I greatly expanded the Frankish Kingdom by bringing much of western and central Europe under his rule through military campaigns. He sought support from the Catholic Church, hoping to use religion to validate his authority over the vast empire. Taking the name Charlemagne at a ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on Christmas Day, Charles was crowned by Pope Leo III as Holy Roman Emperor. The coronation of Charlemagne sparked much debate about the church-state relationship during the Medieval era.

© Public Domain

6. Library of congress burns, 1851

The Library of Congress was established in Washington D.C. in 1800 under then-President John Adams. Twelve years later, the British army invaded the city and burned the Capitol, including the small congressional library in its north wing. It was former President Thomas Jefferson who responded to the loss by selling his personal library of 6,487 volumes, the largest and finest collection in the country. Unfortunately, a second fire on Christmas Eve of 1851 destroyed some 35,000 books. Only one third of the volumes Congress purchased from Jefferson survived the disaster.

© Library of Congress

5. Andrew Johnson pardons all former confederates, 1868

After President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, it fell on Vice President Andrew Johnson to end the devastating Civil War and most importantly, to mend the Civil War’s deep wounds. A Southern Democrat himself, Johnson was eager to get the South back into normal operation by taking a rather moderate, forgiving approach. He inevitably clashed with Republican-controlled Congress that imposed punitive Reconstruction laws on the rebellious South. Johnson’s conflicts with Congress eventually led to his impeachment in 1868. But he was able to remain in office, allowing him to issue a blanket pardon of all soldiers and officers who had served the Confederate States on the Christmas Day.

© Public Domain

4. The Chinese civil war to restore the republic, 1915

The Chinese Revolution from late 1911 to early 1912 brought an end to the country’s 2,000 years of imperial rule. Yuan Shikai, the military leader who played a vital role in the last emperor’s peaceful abdication, was made the first president of the newly-formed Chinese Republic. Not content with limited presidential power, though, Yuan proclaimed himself Emperor of China on December 12, 1915. Yuan’s ill-advised decision backfired badly. Only 13 days later, pro-republic provincial governors condemned Yuan’s plan to revive monarchy and declared independence. The civil war to restore the Republic was concluded in 3 months with the rebel’s victory.

© Wikipedia

3. Gorbachev resigns, 1991

The only Soviet leader who was born after the Russian Revolution, Mikhail Gorbachev did not share the same vision as his predecessors. Gorbachev’s introduced a series of reforms that he believed would lead the country towards democracy and a market economy, only to find the hard-liners rejecting any reform with the reformists thinking he had not done enough. At the end of the day, the USSR was torn apart with chaotic politics and economic collapse. On December 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned as President of Soviet Union, leaving Boris Yeltsin as President of the new Russian state. The Cold War was effectively over.

© The Gorbachev Foundation

2. Birth of Isaac Newton, 1642

Isaac Newton was born prematurely in a little English village on Christmas 1642 and weighed only 3 pounds. He wasn’t expected to survive. However, he not only lived but became one of the most influential men that ever lived. He co-invented calculus, analyzed the motion of stars, and separated white light into colors. He singlehandedly contributed more to the development of modern science than any other individual in history. Newton not only revolutionized the scientific method, but also revolutionized the way we see the world and the universe. Needless to say, Newton is truly a great Christmas gift to humanity.

© Public Domain

1. George Washington’s troop cross Delaware Rriver, 1776

It was the Christmas Eve of 1776 when George Washington decided to launch a surprise attack on Trenton, New Jersey, occupied by Hessian mercenaries hired by Britain. It was freezing cold that night. The boats carrying the continental soldiers, horses, and supplies, lashed by cruel wind, snow, and sleet, barely made it across the ice-filled Delaware River.

The 2,400 brave men, led by Washington, managed to regroup on New Jersey soil before marching toward Trenton, whose defenders were recovering from what was effectively a Christmas party hangover. They were quickly overwhelmed. The daring crossing and victory at Trenton were certainly not the end of Americans’ struggle for independence, but certainly brought hope to all who fought for the cause by giving them a victory they desperately needed.

“Washington Crossing the Delaware” was painted in 1851 German-American artist Emanuel Leutze. (Public Domain)
© Public Domain
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