Christmas is upon us, a sacred day celebrated by Christians around the world and from top to bottom. It is a time when families and friends come together, and for many of us, the world seems to almost stop for 24 hours or so, as we look inward in both our personal and our spiritual lives. Many of us renew our faith and enjoy the company of those we love. The French king Clovis even baptized himself on Christmas Day, 498 AD.
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The world does not stop turning, though.
Even though we may be cocooned in our own little worlds on Christmas Day, the larger world moves along, both Christian and non-Christian. People are born, marry, live fascinating and meaningful lives, accomplish important and life-changing actions, and depart this world in one faith or another or maybe in none.
Some of what has happened on Christmas Day over the ages since the occasion was first celebrated on Dec. 25 in 336 AD in Rome is pretty darn interesting.
Remember the famous Emanuel Leutze painting of George Washington crossing the ice-laden Delaware River with a raised American flag? That crossing, whatever it really looked like, happened on Christmas Day, 1776.
On Christmas Day nearly a century later, in 1868, then-President Andrew Johnson, a native North Carolinian born in Raleigh, granted an unconditional pardon to everyone who participated in the unsuccessful Southern rebellion that eventually became the Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in American history. Remembering this and more is why the North Carolina Civil War History Center must be built in our community.
Christmas Day 1964 saw George Harrison’s girlfriend attacked by female Beatles fans, and on Christmas Day 1991, Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev took to television to announce his resignation as the last leader of a communist superpower that had already passed from existence. Go figure.
It is hard to believe that the internet that I take for granted, and through which some of you will read this, took its first test run on Christmas Day 1990. This was the day the world’s first web server, info.cern.ch, was up and running, courtesy of the tech wizards at the European Organization for Nuclear Research. What would any of us do without it now?
On Christmas Day 2010, the first snowfall in 128 years hit Atlanta, affecting 500 flights in and out of that city’s massive airport. I suspect some of us in this military community remember that mess well.
While many of us are enjoying Christmas activities on Dec. 25, some of us are doing the expected on an unexpected day. One of my close friends was born on Christmas Day, which she says meant both Santa and a birthday cake. She is not alone, sharing her birthday with Jimmy Buffett, born in Pascagoula, Mississippi and Annie Lennox in Scotland. Other Christmas babies include Sissy Spacek, Karl Rove and Fantasia.
The 19th century saw many Christmas Day weddings, mostly because it was one of the few days people were not expected to work. Saturday seems to be the preferred wedding day in the 21st century, probably for the same reason, but people do wed on Christmas Day. They include Thomas Edison, Cary Grant, comics hero Dick Tracy and, reportedly, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Sadly, we all know how that turned out. Conversely, iconic actor John Wayne got a Christmas Day divorce.
And, people do leave us on Christmas Day. Notables who did so include W.C. Fields in 1946 (alcoholism), Charlie Chaplin in 1977 (old age), Dean Martin in 1995 (respiratory failure), Jon Benet Ramsey, aged 6 (murder-still unsolved) and James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, in 2006 (heart failure).
I do not expect to marry on Christmas Day, and I certainly do not hope to pass into the great beyond on Dec. 25. I hope for myself and my family the same warm and wonderful day that I wish for you and your family. May your holidays be filled with food, family, friends and the joy of being together.
I close with the words of America’s Apollo 8 astronauts who spent Christmas Eve 1968 orbiting the moon, the first human beings to do so. In one of the most watched television broadcasts in history, the astronauts closed with this, “Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”