William Bradford

December 25th, 1621: Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Colony forbids game playing on Christmas.

William Bradford was a separatist, on the left wing of the Puritan movement and one of the organizers of the Mayflower voyage in 1620 of 100 pilgrims to the New World. On board the Mayflower he was one of the forces behind the Mayflower Compact that became the basis for the government of the Plymouth colony.

In 1621 he was elected Governor of Plymouth serving almost all expect 5 years until 1656. Bradford is also the author of “Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620–47” a history of the pilgrims including the Mayflower voyage, hardships and their early years in the New World.

Born: March 19, 1589
Birthplace: Austerfield, Yorkshire, England

Died: May 9, 1657 (aged 68)

Hagia Sophia

December 24th, 563: The Byzantine church Hagia Sophia in Constantinople is dedicated for the second time after being destroyed by earthquakes.

The Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) is the third church to be built in this site. The Byzantine emperor Justinian I ordered its construction in 532 after riots destroyed an earlier church on its site in Istanbul. It was finished in just five years in 537 and was then the world’s largest building. It served as the Greek Orthodox cathedral and was the place where Eastern Emperors were crowned.

Regarded as the height of Byzantine architecture it is famous for its massive dome and for its mosaic decoration inside. It stood as the world’s largest church for nearly a thousand years, only surpassed by Seville’s cathedral in 1520. After the conquest of Istanbul by Mehmed the Conqueror in 1453 the church was converted into a mosque. In 1935 Mustafa Kemal Atatürk made it into a museum, which it remains.

Assassination Attempt on Lord Charles Hardinge

December 23rd, 1912: Indian revolutionary underground in Bengal and Punjab, headed by Rash Behari Bose attempt to assassinate Viceroy of India Lord Hardinge.

Lord Charles Hardinge as Viceroy of India was part of a ceremonial procession into Delhi to mark the transfer of the Indian capital from Calcutta to Delhi in 1912 when Indian nationalists made an assassination attempt on him.

The so-called Delhi Conspiracy case was organized by revolutionary Rash Behari Bose who himself threw a handmade bomb at Lord Hardinge, seated upon an elephant. The Viceroy received flesh wounds but his servant who held a parasol over him was killed.

Bose escaped capture but the investigation and trial that followed convicted five men, four to death and one to imprisonment.

Although the assassination attempt marked a low point in the Viceroy’s term, he is remembered overall for improving relations between India and the British crown, helped by his criticism of South Africa’s policies towards Indians and by his admiration of Mahatma Gandhi.

Phonograph

December 22nd, 1877: Thomas Edison’s phonograph is announced by Scientific American.

Thomas Edison was one of the great inventors and designers in the history of the world. He invented the first practical light bulb, the motion picture camera and the phonograph. Others had attempted to invent the latter but Edison’s was the first to actually reproduce the sound.

The phonograph was Edison’s first major invention and the one that earned him the moniker “the wizard of Menlo Park” as the invention was so unexpected by the public as to appear magical. His first invention recorded on tinfoil around a grooved cylinder, and although the recordings could only be played a few times due to low quality, Edison’s reputation was cemented.

He demonstrated the device on November 29, 1877, having announced its invention days before. He would patent it later that February. Recalling a demonstration in December, an employee of Scientific American magazine wrote: ” “In December, 1877, a young man came into the office of the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, and placed before the editors a small, simple machine about which very few preliminary remarks were offered. The visitor without any ceremony whatever turned the crank, and to the astonishment of all present the machine said: “Good morning. How do you do? How do you like the phonograph?” The machine thus spoke for itself, and made known the fact that it was the phonograph…”

Edison did not improve on his design but Alexander Graham Bell invented an improved phonograph using wax cylinders in 1880.

A Christmas Carol

December 19th, 1843: “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens is published, 6,000 copies sold.

A Christmas Carol, is a novella by Charles Dickens, first published in London by Chapman & Hall in 1843 and illustrated by John Leech. A Christmas Carol recounts the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, an elderly miser who is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley and the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. After their visits, Scrooge is transformed into a kinder, gentler man.

Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol during a period when the British were exploring and re-evaluating past Christmas traditions, including carols, and newer customs such as Christmas cards and Christmas trees. He was influenced by the experiences of his own youth and by the Christmas stories of other authors, including Washington Irving and Douglas Jerrold. Dickens had written three Christmas stories prior to the novella, and was inspired following a visit to the Field Lane Ragged School, one of several establishments for London’s street children. The treatment of the poor and the ability of a selfish man to redeem himself by transforming into a more sympathetic character are the key themes of the story. There is discussion among academics as to whether this is a fully secular story, or if it is a Christian allegory.

Published on 19 December, the first edition sold out by Christmas Eve; by the end of 1844 thirteen editions had been released. Most critics reviewed the novella favorably. The story was illicitly copied in January 1844; Dickens took legal action against the publishers, who went bankrupt, further reducing Dickens’s small profits from the publication. He went on to write four other Christmas stories in subsequent years. In 1849 he began public readings of the story, which proved so successful he undertook 127 further performances until 1870, the year of his death. A Christmas Carol has never been out of print and has been translated into several languages; the story has been adapted many times for film, stage, opera and other media.

A Christmas Carol captured the zeitgeist of the mid-Victorian revival of the Christmas holiday. Dickens had acknowledged the influence of the modern Western observance of Christmas and later inspired several aspects of Christmas, including family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, dancing, games and a festive generosity of spirit.

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas”

December 18th, 1966: Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” airs for 1st time on CBS.

Theodor Geisel published over 60 books during his life, 44 as Dr. Seuss for children and he remains one of the most beloved children’s authors. Ironically his first children’s book “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” was rejected 27 times before being publishing in 1937. Other titles followed after WWI including “Horton Hears a Who!” (1955), “The Cat in the Hat” (1957) and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”(1957).

A number of Dr. Seuss’ books were designed for very young readers such as “The Cat in the Hat” and are marked by a more pared down vocabulary while still using his trademark drawings and rhyming style. A number of Dr. Seuss stories have been successfully adapted for film and television and in 1984 he was awarded a Special Pulitzer Prize for his contribution to children’s literature.

Geisel is also well known for his more adult cartoons, during WWI he drew many anti-fascist cartoons for newspapers and periodicals and joined the army as a Captain in the animation unit. Geisel is also remembered as an commercial artist, drawing advertising for Standard Oil during the Depression.

Born: March 2, 1904
Birthplace: Springfield, Massachusetts, USA

Died: September 24, 1991 (aged 87)
Cause of Death: Cancer

Napoleon Bonaparte

December 15th, 1840: Napoleon Bonaparte receives a French state funeral in Paris 19 years after his death.

One of the most controversial, influential and celebrated figures in human history, Napoleon seized upon the opportunities created by the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 and became a general at age 29. After the French Directory gave him control of the armed forces, his early military victories established him as a national hero, and he engineered a coup in 1799 that made him First Consul of the Republic. He went further and declared himself Emperor of the French in 1804. Napoleon’s stunning military victories over his European enemies – at Austerlitz in 1805, Friedland in 1807 and Wagram in 1809 – solidified his dominance of virtually the entire continent, and confirmed the rapid spread of his empire.

After launching the Peninsular War in Spain, Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812, which ended in disaster and the collapse of his Grand Army. A Sixth Coalition defeated him at Leipzig, invaded France and forced him to abdicate in 1814. He was exiled to Elba, where he escaped and took control of France. He was finally defeated by a Seventh Coalition at Waterloo and exiled to St Helena in the South Atlantic where he died in 1821. Napoleon’s foreign and domestic achievements, particularly the Napoleonic Code, greatly influenced the foundations of most of the modern Western world.

Born: August 15, 1769
Birthplace: Ajaccio, Corsica, France

Died: May 5, 1821 (aged 51)
Cause of Death: Officially stomach cancer, but rumours of arsenic poisoning persist (possibly emitted by wallpaper)

Woodrow Wilson

December 14h, 1914: US President Woodrow Wilson signs Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, to regulate and tax production, importation, and distribution of opiates and coca products.

Why Famous: A progressive politician, Woodrow Wilson became President of Princeton University in 1902, Governor of New Jersey in 1910 and was nominated for President by the Democratic Party in 1912.

Wilson served two terms. His first saw the introduction of progressive legislation that would be unseen in scale until Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s. This legislation included the Federal Reserve Act, the Underwood Revenue Act, the Clayton Antitrust Act, the Federal Farm Loan Act and child labor laws.

In 1914, World War I broke out and Wilson maintained neutrality, while pursuing a more aggressive course in Mexico’s civil war. Wilson became the first Democrat since Andrew Jackson to be re-elected to consecutive terms in 1916. The following year, when Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare and the existence of the Zimmerman Telegram was disclosed, he changed his earlier stance on entering the war and asked the Senate to declare war on Germany, taking the country into the final stages of World War I.

After the Allied victory he was instrumental in negotiating the Treaty of Versailles and establishing the League of Nations. Wilson had first put forward the idea of a League as part of his ‘Fourteen Points’ speech in a Senate address. In 1919 he won the Nobel Peace Prize. The same year he suffered a severe stroke which left his power and influence diminished, and the Treaty of Versailles was eventually rejected by the Senate. He lost a bid to be re-nominated at the Democratic National Convention and left office in 1921, before dying in 1924.

Presidential Term: April 3, 1913 – April 3, 1921
Preceded By: William Howard Taft
Succeeded By: Warren G. Harding

Born: December 28, 1856
Birthplace: Staunton City, Virginia, USA

Died: February 3, 1924 (aged 67)
Cause of Death: Stroke

Enrico Fermi

December 10th, 1938: Italian scientist Enrico Fermi receives the Nobel Prize for Physics (work on reduced radioactivity).

 Best known for his work on Chicago Pile-1 (the first nuclear reactor), and for his contributions to the development of quantum theory, and nuclear and particle physics. Fermi is one of the men referred to as the “father of the atomic bomb”. His career began in his native Italy and at 37 was awarded the 1938 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on reduced radioactivity.

In 1939 he moved to the US, conducting the first nuclear fission experiment (splitting of a uranium atom) in the US before moving to Chicago and designing the world’s first nuclear reactor, the Chicago Pile-1. Fermi also worked with Robert Oppenheimer on Project Y in Los Alamos, New Mexico as part of the Manhattan Project that created the nuclear atomic bombs dropped in Japan. After WWII Fermi continued to work on the Manhattan Project, though opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb on moral grounds. He also contributed significant work on cosmic radiology.

Born: September 29, 1901
Birthplace: Rome, Italy

Died: November 28, 1954 (aged 53)
Cause of Death: Stomach cancer

Operation Restore Hope

December 9th, 1992: Operation Restore Hope: US Marines land in Somalia.

A civil war in Somalia had raged since the late 1980s when dictator Siad Barre began to face significant resistance to his rule at home. By the early 1990s, the conflict had led to a complete breakdown in civil order and a humanitarian disaster in the country.

In response to this, the United Nations authorized a military operation to create a humanitarian corridor in the southern portion of the country. The United States led this effort, code-named Operation Restore Hope. Marines arrived in Somalia and launched an amphibious attack on Mogadishu on December 9, 1992.

After the deaths of Pakistani peacekeepers during the operation, the United Nations changed the scope of the deployment, authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect and guarantee aid deliveries to the entire country. This led to an increase in military deployment to Somalia, and in October 1993, the infamous ‘Black Hawk Down’ incident in Mogadishu occurred when eighteen American soldiers were killed and a Black Hawk helicopter shot down by rebel factions.

UN operations in Somalia lasted until 1995. The country continues to struggle with anarchy, effective government and a collapsed economy following the disastrous civil war.