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9 Other Things That Happened Christmas Day

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1. Lots of Notable People Were Born

For at least 1,656 years, Jesus's birthday has been celebrated on Christmas day. As a result, those born on December 25 have complained that they only get one set of gifts each year. At least they have some good company. Christmas day is also the birthday of (among many other notables) scientist Isaac Newton, cosmetics tycoon Helena Rubenstein, Egypitian president Anwar Sadat, and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. It is also the birthday of several entertainers, including Cab Calloway, Rod Serling, Little Richard, Sissy Spacek, Annie Lennox"¦ and Humphrey Bogart, star of movies like Casablanca and The African Queen.

bogie.jpgBogie's birthday, however, was long under dispute. According to Hollywood legend, his birth date was actually January 23, 1900, but Warner Brothers Studios listed it as Christmas Day, 1899, when he went from playing thugs to heroic leading men. The reason? If everyone thought that he was born on Christmas, they wouldn't think that he was such a villain.


It's dubious logic, of course "“ and the truth is that he really was a Christmas baby. Nonetheless, many film writers and biographers have still fallen for the Hollywood myth that his Christmas birthday was a Hollywood myth. (Got that?)

2. Ten Days Went Missing

In case you think that Christmas sometimes comes too quickly, spare a thought for the Dutch provinces of Brabant, Zeeland and the Staten-Generaal, which adopted the common Gregorian calendar (along with most of Europe) in 1582 "“ and adjusted the dates to cater for this. In those provinces, the final day of the old calendar was December 14. When they awoke the next morning, it was December 25. Hopefully they had all finished their Christmas shopping.

The Gregorian calendar reformed the previous Julian calendar, which had been introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC. Though Caesar had based his calendar on astronomical data, his scientists had miscalculated the lunar and solar times, so that by the 16th century, the spring equinox (which included Easter) was starting to seem a little wintry. To deal with this, Pope Gregory XIII assembled a team of expert mathematicians and astronomers to create a new, official calendar. Among the reforms, New Years Day was on, er, January 1. Previously, for reasons too complicated to explain, it had been celebrated in late March.

3. A Christmas Truce

Only six months into World War I, the scale of slaughter was difficult to comprehend. Hundreds of thousands of German and British soldiers had already died (only a fraction of the nine million lives that would eventually be claimed by the war). Yet if you want an example of the power of Christmas, none would be more powerful than the scene in one corner of the Western Front on Christmas Day 1914, when the enemy soldiers climbed from the trenches and greeted each other in the open, making no attempt to shoot each other. The Germans offered cigars and (speaking French) requested English fruit jam (jelly). It was a brief "Christmas truce," in which they played soccer, exchanged wine and photos, and sang each other carols in their native languages. Though the hostilities would recommence by New Years Day, the British generals were appalled by this truce, and ordered Christmas Eve artillery bombardments each year for the rest of the war (ensuring that nobody would have time to make merry). But they couldn't completely end the goodwill. A similar truce would held in 1915 between German and French troops, and an Easter truce would be enforced in 1916.

4. Washington Crosses the Delaware

In one of the most famous and decisive moments of the American Revolution, General George Washington led his army across the Delaware River to Trenton, New Jersey, with the password "Victory or Death." In the evening, they captured 1,000 Hessian soldiers in a surprise attack that raised morale in Washington's troops and turned the tide of the war.

5. Coronation Day

In Christian nations, Christmas has been a popular date for coronations "“ at least since 800, when Charles the Great (Charlemagne) was crowned Roman emperor by Pope Leo III, technically making his the rightful successor to Augustus Caesar. Over the next few hundred years, many popes, monarchs and bishops have had Christmas coronations. Among them was William the Conqueror, who was crowned king of England in 1066, two months after defeating the Saxon army at the Battle of Hastings. But since then, the tradition has lost favor. Over 900 years later, William's descendent, Queen Elizabeth II, made it quite clear in her 1991 Christmas Message (televised, as every year, to millions of Britons) that, despite rumors, she would not be stepping aside for her son, Prince Charles.

6. Hirohito Ascends

Japanese Emperor Yoshihito died on Christmas Day 1926, and was immediately replaced by his son Hirohito, who began a record 62-year reign (far longer than any other Japanese emperor, and the fifth longest-reigning monarch in world history). The official name of his reign was Showa, the "time of enlightened peace," but it would see Japan become a more militaristic and aggressive force. After Japan's terrible defeat in World War II, however, Hirohito learned the art of humility, and renouncing his traditional divinity. His subjects were now permitted look him in the face.

7. Ceausescu's Execution

200.jpgThe year 1989 saw the fall of many Eastern European dictators, but none were as dramatic as that of Romanian president Nicolae Ceausescu, who refused to relinquish his power. Ceausescu had bled the country dry, leaving many Romanians in poverty while he and his family built palaces and lived in luxury. (He burned down the houses of 30,000 families to build a palace in Bucharest, which was never completed.) Eventually, even his army turned against him. He and his equally despised wife, Elena, spent their Christmas on trial for "extremely grave crimes against the State." Though they weren't particularly helpful during the trial ("I will answer only to the workers," said Ceausescu), they were quickly found guilty. By the end of the day, Romanians were treated to an unusual Christmas TV special: the execution of the Ceausecus, by firing squad. Still seemingly deluded enough to think that they were adored by their former subjects, they looked confused and angry in their final moments. The news led to dancing in the streets of Bucharest.

8. Date with Disaster

If you thought burnt turkey and out-of-tune carol-singing with the family was bad, think of all the terrible disasters that have happened on Christmas day. In 1717, floods ravaged coastal provinces in Holland, killing thousands. In 1953, a train plunged into New Zealand's Wangaehu River, leaving 166 dead. In 1971, a fire killed 163 at the Taeyokale Hotel in Seoul. In 1974, Cyclone Tracy destroyed much of the city of Darwin, in northern Australia. Sixty-five people died, and Darwin was so damaged that fund-raisers, including a hit song called "Santa Never Made it to Darwin," raised millions for reconstruction. In case Australia needed more Christmas disasters, a fire at a Sydney backpackers' hotel left 13 dead on Christmas Day the very next year.

A year after that, Egypt's SS Patria sank in the Red Sea, killing 100. More recently, a 2004 earthquake in south-east Asia, measuring 9.3 on the Richter scale, led to a devastating group of tsunamis the next day, which would ultimately kill over 200,000 people.

Rather than end on such a low note, let's finish the Christmas list with one of the lighter moments"¦

9. Dick Marries Tess

Dick Tracy has been described as "the first realistic police [comic] strip", which sounds odd for a strip where the crooks have names like Mr. Bribery, Pruneface and Boris Arson, and look as ridiculous as they sound. Nonetheless, plainclothes cop Dick Tracy did a few things that were surprisingly real for a comic strip. For starters, he became one of the first comic strip heroes to marry his sweetheart, Tess Truehart, on Christmas Day 1949. True, they had been dating for 18 years (during which time they hadn't aged a day, of course), but as Superman and Lois Lane would take 58 years to tie the knot, and Popeye finally married Olive Oyl after 70 years, that's not a bad waiting time. Their daughter, Bonnie Braids, was born (in the back of a squad car) in 1951.

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
A Chinese Museum Is Offering Cash to Whoever Can Decipher These 3000-Year-Old Inscriptions

During the 19th century, farmers in China’s Henan Province began discovering oracle bones—engraved ox scapulae and tortoise shells used by Shang Dynasty leaders for record-keeping and divination purposes—while plowing their fields. More bones were excavated in subsequent years, and their inscriptions were revealed to be the earliest known form of systematic writing in East Asia. But over the decades, scholars still haven’t come close to cracking half of the mysterious script’s roughly 5000 characters—which is why one Chinese museum is asking member of the public for help, in exchange for a generous cash reward.

As Atlas Obscura reports, the National Museum of Chinese Writing in Anyang, Henan Province has offered to pay citizen researchers about $15,000 for each unknown character translated, and $7500 if they provide a disputed character’s definitive meaning. Submissions must be supported with evidence, and reviewed by at least two language specialists.

The museum began farming out their oracle bone translation efforts in Fall 2016. The costly ongoing project has hit a stalemate, and scholars hope that the public’s collective smarts—combined with new advances in technology, including cloud computing and big data—will yield new information and save them research money.

As of today, more than 200,000 oracle bones have been discovered—around 50,000 of which bear text—so scholars still have a lot to learn about the Shang Dynasty. Many of the ancient script's characters are difficult to verify, as they represent places and people from long ago. However, decoding even just one character could lead to a substantial breakthrough, experts say: "If we interpret a noun or a verb, it can bring many scripts on oracle bones to life, and we can understand ancient history better,” Chinese history professor Zhu Yanmin told the South China Morning Post.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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