December 25, in the 753rd year since the founding of Rome – or so Dionysius Exiguus, working in AD 525, would have us believe – Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem, in what is now the West Bank, Palestinian Territories. Based on historical and astronomical evidence, and even passages in the Gospels themselves, this date is almost certainly incorrect. Besides, Jesus appears to be one of the last people who would be concerned about people noticing his birthday. He’d rather we were good to each other.
Christmas AD 800: Charles the Great (a.k.a. Charles Le Magne, Charlemagne and Carolus Magnus) is crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Rome.
Christmas 1000: The Kingdom of Hungary is founding by King Stephen I.
Christmas 1065: Westminster Abbey is consecrated in London. But the King of England, Edward the Confessor, who ordered and funded its building, is too ill to attend, and dies early the next year. Which leads to…
Christmas 1066: William, Duke of Normandy, a.k.a. William the Bastard and William the Conqueror, is crowned King William I of England at Westminster Abbey. As the saying goes, never go into battle with a man called “the Bastard” or “the Conqueror,” because chances are he earned those nicknames.
Christmas 1183: Not the best of Christmases for King Henry II, his Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their sons, the princes Richard, Geoffrey and John. The film is "The Lion In Winter," and they are played by the following: Henry by Peter O'Toole, Eleanor by Katherine Hepburn, the future King Richard I (the Lionhearted) by Anthony Hopkins in his first major film role, Geoffrey by John Castle, and the future Magna Carta signer King John by Nigel Terry (who would be a much better King, Arthur, in "Excalibur").
Christmas 1635: Samuel de Champlain, the explorer known as “the Father of New France,” dies at the city he founded, Quebec.
Christmas 1642: Isaac Newton is born in Wolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, Lincolnshire, England.
Christmas 1776: George Washington leads the Continental Army across the Delaware River, attacks the Hessians on the New Jersey side, and wins the Battle of Trenton, thus keeping the Revolutionary cause alive.
Christmas 1818: “Silent Night” is first performed, at (appropriately enough) the Church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, Austria. Father Joseph Mohr wrote the lyrics (in German: “Stille Nacht”), and Franz Gruber composed the melody.
Christmas 1821: Clara Barton is born in Oxford, Massachusetts. She goes on to found the American Red Cross.
Christmas 1822: Clement Clarke Moore, a theologian in New York, is asked by his children if there are any books about Santa Claus. He decides to find out, but discovers that no bookstore in town has any. So he writes his own version of the story, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” which establishes so much of the Santa Claus legend that we know today. The story is published the following year. Moore was born in 1779 and lived until 1863.
Christmas 1826: The Eggnot Riot, a.k.a. the Grog Mutiny, takes place at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Among the cadets who took part, but not punished, was Jefferson Davis. Twenty were court-martialed.
Christmas 1843: In London, moneylender Ebenezer Scrooge has a change of heart. Instead of treating it with a cry of “Bah, humbug!” he accepts Christmas the way those around him do, with the words of his employee Bob Crachit’s small, handicapped son Tim: “God bless us, every one!” The story is “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens.
Christmas 1856: James Francis Galvin is born in St. Louis. The Hall of Fame pitcher was nicknamed “Pud” because he “reduced hitters to pudding.” No word on whether it was figgy pudding.
Christmas 1867: A Christmas party is held at the Ponderosa Ranch in Virginia City, Nevada, and there’s a Dickensian twist to this “Bonanza” episode titled “A Christmas Story.”
Christmas 1870: Chaja “Helena” Rubinstein is born in Krakow, Poland. She becomes a cosmetics tycoon.
Christmas 1875: “Young Tom Morris,” early golf legend and the son of an early golf legend, dies under mysterious circumstances in his native St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland. He is only 24.
Christmas 1876: Muhammad Ali Jinnah is born in Karachi, British India. He becomes the founder of the nation of Pakistan.
Christmas 1878: Louis Chevrolet is born in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. A pioneer of auto racing, he founded the car company that bears his name. Possibly also the source of Eartha Kitt’s request: “Santa baby, a ’54 convertible, too, light blue.”
Christmas 1884: Evelyn Nesbit is born in Tarentum, Pennsylvania. She became a popular Broadway actress after getting on the “casting couch” of architect Stanford White, and after marrying playboy Harry Thaw, saw Thaw murder White, resulting in “the Trial of the Century,” making her the most familiar woman in America thanks to the era’s “yellow journalism.” Her life was a disaster after that. Before her death in 1967, she said of the only man she truly loved, “Stanny White died. My fate was worse: I lived.”
Christmas 1887: Conrad Nicholson Hilton is born in Socorro County, New Mexico. Sadly, the hotel icon is now best known for his socialite great-granddaughters, Paris and Nicky.
Christmas 1890: Robert LeRoy Ripley is born in Santa Rosa, California. Yes, he was born on a Christmas Day – believe it or not!
Christmas 1899: Humphrey DeForest Bogart is born in Manhattan. Listen, sweetheart, if you don’t have a Merry Christmas, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.
Christmas 1902: Barton MacLane is born in Columbia, South Carolina. Like Bogie, he developed a reputation for playing tough guys.
Christmas 1905: Della Young has just $1.87 – about $34 in today’s money – not enough to buy a Christmas present for her husband Jim. She goes to a woman who buys hair, has her long hair cut, and receives $20, enough money to buy a platinum fob chain to go with the watch that Jim owns and loves. As it turns out, Jim sold the watch, and used the money to buy hair-care products for Della. This story was “The Gift of the Magi,” by William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. O. Henry.
Christmas 1907: Cabell Calloway III is born in Rochester, New York. “Minnie the Moocher” is not exactly a Christmas carol, but on December 25, Cab Calloway might’ve sung it, “Hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-ho-ho-ho!”
Christmas 1908: Denis Charles Pratt was born in Sutton, Surrey, England. He was better known as the author Quentin Crisp.
Christmas 1912: Tony Martin is born in San Francisco. A singer and actor, and one of the few surviving entertainers of the 1930s, he starred on the Burns & Allen radio show, and married Alice Faye and Cyd Charisse. He and Charisse were married from 1948 until she died in 2008. He is 99 years old.
Christmas 1914: A truce is declared on the Western Front in World War I. Upon hearing the Germans sing Christmas carols in their trench, the British started to do so in theirs. Soon, they came out of their trenches, and stopped treating each other as enemies for a few hours, exchanging food, drinks, and trinkets. Legend has it that there was even a soccer game. Sorry, forgot to “speak English” there: A football match. The Germans supposedly beat the English, 3-2. The first time, but not the last, that Englishmen would be defeated by Germans at their national game; but, as Sir Alf Ramsey pointed out before the 1966 World Cup Final, twice, the English (well, the British, and their allies) would beat the Germans at their national game, and on their soil no less. Military historian Andrew Robertshaw says such a truce would have been unthinkable a year later. He said: "This was before the poisoned gas, before aerial bombardment. By the end of 1915, both sides were far too bitter for this to happen again."
Christmas 1924: Submitted for your approval: Rodman Edward Serling is born in Syracuse, New York. Rod Serling died in 1975, but he hopes you have a Merry Christmas. He sends you this greeting… from “The Twilight Zone.” (His opinion of the “Twilight Saga” books and films is unrecorded.)
Christmas 1926: Emperor Yoshihito of Japan dies. He is succeeded by his son, Emperor Hirohito.
Christmas 1927: Jacob Nelson Fox is born in St. Thomas, Pennsylvania. The diminutive but crafty Hall of Fame second baseman had his Number 2 retired by the Chicago White Sox, whom he led to a Pennant and with whom he won the American League Most Valuable Player award in 1959. Yankee pitching legend Whitey Ford called him the toughest out he ever faced.
Christmas 1935: Alvin Neill Jackson is born in Waco, Texas. Al Jackson was not the most accomplished, but was probably the best, player on the early New York Mets, winning 43 games with them from 1962 to 1969, although he was traded before they would win the World Series that last year. This, on top of being with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1959 and 1961, but stuck in the minors in the season in the middle, when they won the World Series. More hard luck? In 1962, for the Mets, he allowed a hit in the first inning and no-hit the Houston Colt .45s (Astros) the rest of the way. Heck of a way to almost pitch a no-hitter. (That’s as close as the Met franchise has ever come to having one.) At least he’s still alive, unlike Nellie Fox, who died of skin cancer in 1975.
Christmas 1937: O’Kelly Isley Jr. is born in Cincinnati. One of the singing Isley Brothers.
Christmas 1939: Ralphie Parker actually gets his Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle with a compass and this thing which tells time built right in to the stock. (This particular model does not exist in real life.) And doggone it if, but for the grace of God and his glasses, he doesn’t come near to shooting his eye out! The film is “A Christmas Story,” and Ralphie is played by Peter Billingsley.
Christmas 1944: Jair Ventura Filho is born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Known as Jairzinho, he starred with hometown club Botafogo and the Brazilian national soccer team, and won World Cups for his country in 1962 and 1970.
Christmas 1945: Billy Bailey, co-director of the Bailey Brothers Building & Loan, of Bedford Falls, New York, with his late brother Peter’s son George, loses $8,000 meant for the firm’s accounts. Unable to come up with the money, George runs into one awful occurrence after another, and wishes he’d never been born. An angel named Clarence Goodbody shows him what the world (or, at least, his home town) would have been like if that had been the case. George changes his mind, and finds that all the people he’d selflessly helped over the years have come to pay him back, to show him that, in the way that matters, he’s “the richest man in town.” The film is “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and George is played by James Stewart, Billy by Thomas Wilson, and Clarence by Henry Travers.
Christmas 1945 (in real life): Noel Redding is born in Folkestone, Kent, England. He was the guitarist for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Rick Berman is born in Manhattan. He become the keeper of the “Star Trek” flame after Gene Roddenberry died, until it was foolishly given to J.J. “Jar-Jar” Abrams. Ken Stabler is born in Foley, Alabama. “The Snake” quarterbacked the Oakland Raiders to victory in Super Bowl XI. Gary Sandy is born in Dayton, Ohio. Not far from Cincinnati, where he played radio station manager Andy Travis on “WKRP in Cincinnati” – not to be confused with country singer Randy Travis.
Christmas 1946: Legendary comedian W.C. Fields dies. He might have agreed with quirky singer Jimmy Buffett, born this same day in Pascagoula, Mississippi: “Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame.” Also born on this day, in Stow, Ohio, is football legend Larry Csonka. So is former baseball manager Gene Lamont, in Rockford, Illinois.
Christmas 1948: Barbara Ann Mandrell is born in Houston. She, and her singing sisters Louise and Irlene, were country when country wasn’t cool. And when it was.
Christmas 1949: Mary Elizabeth Spacek is born in Quitman, Texas. “Sissy” Spacek also sang country music, playing Loretta Lynn in the film version of Lynn’s memoir “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
Christmas 1950: Jesus Manuel Marcano Trillo is born in Caripito, Venezuela. A child born on December 25, and named Jesus? He’s better known as Manny Trillo, the second baseman of the 1980 World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. Unfortunately for all of humanity, Karl Christian Rove is born in Denver, and grows up to prove himself Christian, literally, in name only.
Christmas 1952: Captains Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce and B.J. Hunnicutt, Major Margaret Houlihan, and Father Francis Mulcahy are called away from Mulcahy’s party for the orphans at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Uijeongbu, Korea, to tend to a wounded soldier. The soldier has no chance, but when Margaret finds a picture of his family in his pocket, B.J. goes back to work, saying, “A family’s Christmas wreaths should be green, not black.” The patient dies at 11:25 PM. Hawkeye moves the clock ahead, so that the time of death will read 12:05 AM, December 26. Hawkeye was played by Alan Alda, B.J. by Mike Farrell (who also wrote and directed this episode of “M*A*S*H”), Margaret by Loretta Swit, and Mulcahy by William Christopher. Harry Morgan (who just died in real life) played the commanding officer, Colonel Sherman Potter… and Santa Claus.
Christmas 1952 (in real life): Carol Christine Hilaria Pounder is born in Georgetown, Guyana. She became the actress CCH Pounder. (Like the Yankees’ CC Sabathia, she does not use periods.)
Christmas 1954: Singer Johnny Ace shoots and kills himself backstage at a concert in Houston. He was allegedly playing Russian Roulette and had no intention of killing himself. But the world of music breaks even, as Annie Lennox is born in Aberdeen, Scotland. With Eurythmics and on her own, she is one of the world’s most beloved living singers.
Christmas 1955: Not having enough money to buy his wife Alice a proper Christmas present, Brooklyn bus driver Ralph Kramden pawns his bowling ball. And on Christmas Eve, he finds Alice has given him a proper bag for his bowling ball. This “Honeymooners” episode, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” was based on “The Gift of the Magi.” Ralph was played by Jackie Gleason, Alice by Audrey Meadows.
Christmas 1958: Alannah Myles is born in Toronto. Essentially a one-hit wonder, the singer of “Black Velvet” has suffered nerve damage and can barely move now, but she still records. Someone born this day who moved a bit better was Hanford Dixon, born in Mobile Alabama. The All-Pro cornerback for the Cleveland Browns would bark like a dog at his teammates to get them psyched up, and fans in the bleachers at Cleveland Municipal Stadium would start barking along with him. Soon, he started calling that section the Dawg Pound, and they would respond by wearing dog masks and throwing dog biscuits. Someone born this day who moved even better still was Rickey Nelson Henley, born in Chicago. His mother remarried and took him to her husband's hometown of Oakland, California, and the boy was renamed Rickey Henley Henderson. A Baseball Hall-of-Famer and by far the all-time leader in stolen bases, Rickey is a legend. Just ask him.
Christmas 1960: Fired after arriving for work late and sloshed, department store Santa Henry Corwin wanders into an alley and finds a bag filled with gifts. The spirit of the holiday is one of the few bright spots in Henry's life, and as he begins handing out the gifts, he realizes the bag is able to produce any gift a recipient requests. After a brief jail stint that ends with Henry changing the mind of his mean, skeptical former boss, he continues handing out gifts until one of his giftees points out that Henry has taken nothing from the bag himself. All he wants? To continue playing Santa every year, a wish that's granted when he finds an elf with a reindeer-driven sleigh waiting to whisk him off to the North Pole. This was an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” titled “Night of the Meek.” Henry was played by Art Carney.
Christmas 1960: In Mayberry, North Carolina, department store owner and resident Scrooge Ben Weaver demands that Sheriff Andy Taylor lock up local moonshiner Jim Muggins. Muggins' family, as well as Andy's, gather to celebrate the holiday with Sam. After witnessing how Jim and Andy and their broods can turn the jailhouse stay into a warm, inviting celebration, Weaver gets himself arrested so he can be part of the fun, and he ends the holiday by getting a nip of Jim's hooch himself. This was the only Christmas episode of “The Andy Griffith Show,” and was titled “The Christmas Story.” Andy was played by Andy Griffith, Deputy (and substitute Santa Claus) Barney Fife by Don Knotts, Ben by Will Wright, and Jim by Sam Edwards.
Christmas 1968: The Apollo 8 astronauts become the first people of Earth to see the far side of the Moon. Also, Helena Christensen is born in Copenhagen, Denmark. She is one of the most heralded models of the last 20 years. Also, Jim Dowd is born in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. Growing up in neighboring Brick, he was the first New Jerseyan to play for the Devils, and remains the only New Jerseyan to have his name on the Stanley Cup, having scored a late winner in Game 2 of the 1995 Finals against the Detroit Red Wings.
Christmas 1969: Baby's First Christmas. Well, mine, anyway. Not that I knew it.
Christmas 1971: The longest game in NFL history was played. The Miami Dolphins beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 24-21, in the 2nd overtime of an AFC Divisional Playoff. It was also the Chiefs’ last game at Kansas City Municipal Stadium, before moving to Arrowhead Stadium. Also on this day, Dido Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O'Malley Armstrong is born in London. Best known for her song "Thank You" and her guest appearance in Eminem's video "Stan," Dido also sang one of the sexiest songs I've ever heard, "Who Makes You Feel." With her husband, Rohan Gavin, she had her first child, a son named Stanley, this past July. Also on this day, Justin Trudeau is born in Montreal to Canada's Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, and his wife Margaret. Two years later to the day, another son would be born to them, Alexandre Trudeau. Both brothers would become journalists, and Justin now serves in Parliament, as his father did before him.
Christmas 1975: Two very different Boston legends are born. Hideki Okajima is a Japanese-born pitcher for the Red Sox, who helped them win the 2007 World Series. And Rob Mariano is born in Canton, Massachusetts. "Boston Rob" continually wore a Red Sox cap while appearing on the CBS series "Survivor," and ended up marrying his season's winner, Amber Brkich. Together, they went on to compete on another CBS series, "The Amazing Race." They now have 2 children.
Christmas 1977: Charlie Chaplin dies. The most renowned of all silent-film actors is truly silenced.
Christmas, 1978: Bert doesn’t have enough money to buy a Christmas present for Ernie. So he sells his beloved paper-clip collection to Mr. Hooper, and uses the money to buy a soap dish for Ernie’s beloved Rubber Duckie. But Ernie doesn’t have enough money to buy a present for Bert, either, so he sells his Duckie to Mr. Hooper, and uses the money to buy a cigar box, perfect for storing Bert’s collection. Then Mr. Hooper comes over and gives them presents: Bert gets his paper clips back, Ernie gets his Duckie back, and the boys tell Mr. Hooper – who’s Jewish, and has been wished a Happy Hanukkah by Bob – that they’re sorry they didn’t get him anything. He tells the boys, “I got the best Christmas present ever: I got to see that everybody got exactly what they wanted.” Bert was a puppet operated by Frank Oz, Ernie by Muppets creator Jim Henson. Mr. Hooper was played by Will Lee, and Bob by Bob McGrath.
Christmas 1989: Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu is overthrown, in the latest chapter of the anti-Communist revolutions of Eastern Europe of that amazing year. He and his wife Elena are executed. Legendary Yankee manager Billy Martin is killed in a drunken-driving crash near his home in Johnson City, New York. Compared to them, the Wet Bandits, played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern in the film "Home Alone," got off considerably easier, despite being tormented by Kevin McCallister, the child protector of the home they were invading in Shermer, Illinois. Kevin was played by Macaulay Culkin.
Christmas 1990: What would become known as the World Wide Web gets its first trial run.
Christmas 1991: Mikhail Gorbachev resigns as President of the Soviet Union. He had become the opposite of “a man without a country”: He was, in effect, a one-man country. The next day, the Supreme Soviet dissolved, its last act being to dissolve the Soviet Union itself after 74 years.
Christmas 1994: Tim Taylor has to tell his son Randy, who wants to spend Christmas at a ski lodge with his friends, “Christmas isn’t about being with people you like! It’s about being with your family!” The show was “Home Improvement,” Tim was played by Tim Allen, and Randy by Jonathan Taylor Thomas.
Christmas 1995: Dean Martin dies.
Christmas 1996: JonBenet Ramsey is found murdered. Her killer has never been definitively identified.
Christmas 1997: Denver Pyle, best known as Uncle Jesse on “The Dukes of Hazzard,” dies.
Christmas 2006: James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, dies.
Christmas 2008: Eartha Kitt dies. The singer of “Santa Baby” and one of 3 women to play Catwoman on the 1960s “Batman” series apparently had used up her 9th life, but what a life it was.
Christmas 2011: May your days be merry and bright. God bless us, every one. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. Sleep in heavenly peace.