9 Other Things That Happened Christmas Day

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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Recall Alert: Swiss Rolls And Bread Sold at Walmart and Food Lion Linked to Salmonella
Evan-Amos, Wikimedia Commons // CC 1.0

New items have been added to the list of foods being recalled due to possible salmonella contamination. According to Fox Carolina, snack cakes and bread products produced by Flowers Foods, Inc. have been pulled from stores in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

The baked goods company, based in Georgia, has reason to believe the whey powder it buys from a third-party supplier is tainted with salmonella. The ingredient is added to its Swiss rolls, which are sold under various brands, as well as its Captain John Derst’s Old Fashioned Bread. Popular chains that normally sell Flowers Foods products include Walmart and Food Lion.

The U.S. is in the middle of a salmonella outbreak. In June, Kellogg's recalled Honey Smacks due to contamination and the CDC is still urging consumers to avoid the brand. The cereal has sickened dozens of people since early March. So far, there have been no reported illnesses connected to the potential Flower Foods contamination.

You can find the full list of recalled items below. If you have one of these products in your kitchen, throw it out immediately or return it to the store where you bought it to be reimbursed.

  • Mrs. Freshley's Swiss Rolls
  • Mrs. Freshley's Swiss Rolls
  • Food Lion Swiss Rolls
  • Baker's Treat Swiss Rolls
  • Market Square Swiss Rolls
  • Great Value Swiss Rolls
  • Captain John Derst's Old Fashioned Bread

[h/t Fox Carolina]

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Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

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