The Word Among Us

Advent 2011 Issue

Christmas Did You Know?

Some Surprising Events That Happened on Christmas Day

Christmas Did You Know?: Some Surprising Events That Happened on Christmas Day

496. Clovis I, the king of the Franks, one of the tribes of Gaul (as France was then called) was baptized on Christmas Day along with three thousand of his followers.

This was a key step in the unification of the French nation because with this massive conver­sion, the combined influence of the church and the state was great enough to forge a nation from the scattered and disorganized tribes who lived in the area.

1214 English barons and high-ranking church prelates presented a list of demands to King John Lack-land on Christmas Day 1214. After a period of hostility and confrontation, the king was forced to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymeade the following June. This “Great Charter” guaranteed the rights of the nobility against the king and became the foundation of all English constitutional law. In time, its guarantees of civil liberty became applicable to both nobility and com­moner alike.

1492 On Christmas Eve, the Santa Maria ran aground on the island of Hispaniola (today’s Haiti and the Dominican Republic). There, Christo­pher Columbus left a group of his men to form a colony, and then he sailed back to Spain in the Niña to report his dis­covery to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.

1652 Under the influence of Oli­ver Cromwell, the English Parliament made the following resolution in 1652: “That no Observation shall be had of the Five and twentieth day of December, commonly called Christmas-Day; nor any Solemnity used or exercised in Churches upon the Day in respect thereof.” Town criers went through the streets ringing their bells and announcing: "no Christmas!” People rioted in response to this unpopular law.

1659 As early as 1621, many of the Puritans and Pilgrims who had settled in Massachusetts refused to celebrate Christmas on the grounds that no day was more important than the Sabbath. Besides, they reasoned, the actual date of Christ’s birthday was not really known. In 1659, the people passed a law that read: “Whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas, or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting in any other way, shall be fined five shillings.” This law was enforced for twenty-two years. Christmas was not recognized as a legal holiday in the United States until the mid-1880s.

1914 On the Western Front on Christmas afternoon 1914, German soldiers from Saxony laid down their rifles, crawled out of the muddy trenches into the no-man’s land between the lines of combat, and began to sing. The astonished Allied soldiers heard the sound of carols that they knew in their own language and joined in, their voices blending in songs that knew no national boundaries. The enemy soldiers ate and sang together and shared cigarettes and chocolate in the slush and snow until their officers broke up the gathering. Even in the midst of a horrifying war, the spirit of Christmas had transformed enemies into brothers.