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Five Big Historical Events on Christmas

Whether you view Christmas as a religious celebration or just a good excuse to indulge in eggnog, the holiday provides an excellent opportunity for historical reflection. TNI throws its hat into the end of year’s “best of” lists with our top five foreign-policy events that happened on Christmas day.

5. 1914: Christmas Truce, WWI

Perhaps the most well-known, but least historically impactful of this top five is the well-documented “Christmas Truce” of 1914, in which German and British troops on the dreaded Western front held a temporary ceasefire during WWI on Christmas day. The sides exchanged “gifts” aka cigarettes and food, sang carols, and played soccer (it is rumored that the Germans won 3-2). Canonized as a shining episode of sanity in the WWI bloodbath, the idea is likely more sunny than the reality, but it bears mentioning for its embrace of the Christmas spirit in otherwise grim times.

4. 1991: Mikhail Gorbachev Resigns as President of USSR

With Russia in a state of almost total collapse in 1991, the final blow dealt to Mr. Gorbachev and the USSR was a Ukrainian referendum for independence, which sealed the fate of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev resigned the following day, on Christmas, and the union was dissolved two days later, effectively ending the Cold War that had existed between the Soviet Union and the United States for over forty years.

3. 800: Charlemagne is Crowned Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III

It was Father Christmas’s day that the so-called pater Europae or Father of Europe was crowned as Roman Emperor. Among his many accomplishments, Charles the Great united most of Western Europe for the first time since the Roman Empire, revived learning and education, stabilized currency, and essentially ensured the survival of Christianity in the West for years to come through his fanatical support for the Church. No small list of achievements. It is somewhat lesser known that he is the catalyst behind Carolingian miniscule, a standardized script that allowed the Latin alphabet to be easily understood and communicated across Europe.

2. 1776: Washington Crosses the Delaware, Defeating 1,400 Hessians

After a series of defeats in New York and with faith in the American dream of independence dwindling, George Washington, in the dead of night on Christmas 1776, crossed the Delaware River and marched his troops to Trenton, New Jersey. There, they went wild, defeating a large number of Hessian troops and living to fight on another day in pursuit of American independence. This surprise attack later became known as the Ten Crucial Days, laying the groundwork for Washington’s subsequent victories at Princeton and the Second Battle of Trenton, before he ultimately won the war.

1. 1990: First Successful Trial Run of What Would Become the World Wide Web

In a Christmas gift that would undoubtedly keep giving for years to come, an early version of what later was known as simply the “web”—encompassing an early version of a web server, the first web pages and a web browser—was successfully run for the first time on Christmas of 1990. The way we all connect to one another on a daily basis went public only seven months later, changing our lives forever and making this article as you read it now a possibility. Less than a quarter century later, there are over 600 million webpages on every subject in the world and nearly 150 billion email users. The web changed not only the way we communicate about dinner plans, but also revolutions.

Images: Gorbachev: Wikimedia Commons/SpreeTom. CC BY-SA 3.0.