336AD: First recorded celebration of the Christmas feast, 3 years after Emperor Constantine’s conversion to the faith.
1066: Two and a half months after his decisive victory at the Battle of Hastings, and with no viable English opposition to halt his plundering progress from the Channel coast to London, William the Conqueror is crowned king of England by the Archbishop of Canterbury in London’s Westminster Abbey.
1492: Christopher Columbus’ flagship, the carrack Santa Maria, runs aground on a reef off the coast of Haiti close to Cap Haitien. The wreck was a classic case of poor watch-standing; with the captain himself
1635: Death of Samuel de Champlain (b.1567), French soldier, draftsman, cartographer and explorer of France’s New World territories; Founded Quebec City in 1603, continued to explore and map the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence River, and established a tight web of trading relationships with the various Indian tribes of the upper Mississippi watershed. You correctly recognize that that long, beautiful waterway between Vermont & NY is named after him. One of the Greats from the Great Age of Exploration.
1809: Birth of legendary frontiersman, trapper, Indian fighter, scout and soldier, Kit Carson
1814: British and American diplomats sign the Treaty of Ghent, formally ending the War of 1812. The terms of the agreement essentially return the belligerents to the status quo ante
1878: Birth of Louis Chevrolet (d.1941), Swiss-American race car driver and businessman. The business unit still bears his name.
1905: Birth of movie mogul, aircraft designer, pilot, businessman and legendary eccentric, Howard Hughes.
1914: Five months into the widely spreading combat of the Great War, and just weeks after completing the “Race to the Sea” that established a continuous line of trenches from the Swiss border to the North Sea, on this Christmas Eve, soldiers from both sides of the trenches find themselves singing Christmas carols to each other, and then tentatively, but with increasingly greater frequency, climbing out of their trenches under an unofficial truce to exchange cigarettes and small gifts with soldiers from the other side. Christmas Day saw a generalized truce that saw not only light fraternization, but also several episodes of soccer games between British and German soldiers in No Man’s Land. The Christmas Truce was a completely spontaneous and un-authorized pause in the fighting that the soldiers who were there remembered for the rest of their lives. In subsequent years, particularly after the shocking bloodletting and gas attacks of 1915, there was little need for the commanders on both sides to remind their soldiers that their job was to kill, not socialize with, the enemy on the other side of the trenches.
1941: Admiral Chester Nimitz arrives in Hawaii to take command of what’s left of the still-smoldering Pacific Fleet of the United States Navy.
1943: American General Dwight D. Eisenhower is named Supreme Commander for the Allied invasion of Normandy. Ike’s extraordinary skills in planning and diplomacy with the fractious British and French allies were the key to creating a success from this incredibly complex operation.
1968: Three days after making their trans-lunar injection (TLI) rocket firing, the astronauts of Apollo 8 fire their Service Module’s main engine and enter a stable lunar orbit. If you were sentient at the time, you will remember the stunning live color TV transmission* from the Command Module, when we earth-bound travelers witnessed with the astronauts the first “earth rise” over the limb of our celestial partner, punctuated with breathtaking poignancy as Mission Commander Frank Bormann read the opening verses of the Book of Genesis: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” Jim Lovell and Bill Anders took turns with subsequent readings of the Creation story, closing with, “…and from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”
1968 : After 20 hours in orbit around the Moon, the crew of Apollo 8 fires its service module main engine* to perform a trans-earth injection burn, putting the craft onto the perilous trajectory back to our home planet. It is probably worth repeating: the re-entry window from the lunar orbit to the earth’s atmosphere is a mere 2.5 degrees. Anything less than that, and the capsule will skip off the outer fringes of the atmosphere to be lost in an indefinite solar orbit; any more than that would cause massive deceleration and structural failure, with the re-entry heat completely consuming the capsule and crew.