Most Christmases are spent celebrating the holiday season with family and friends. But in years past, the events that took place on December 25th were pivotal to shaping our nation. See some of the defining moments in American history that happened on Christmas Day.
1776 – Washington Crosses the Delaware
After a series of defeats, the Continental Army stood on the verge of losing the Revolutionary War. On Christmas night 1776, General George Washington led 2,400 troops across the frozen Delaware River, in a desperate attack against the Hessian garrison in Trenton, New Jersey. Washington’s surprise attack led to a decisive victory that changed the course of the war.
1814 – The Treaty of Ghent Ends the War of 1812
After four months of negotiations in Ghent, Belgium, the United States and Great Britain came to an agreement on Christmas Eve to end the thirty-two-month struggle between the two nations. Historians consider the war a draw, with both countries surrendering territories they conquered.
1836 – Alabama Declares Christmas a Legal Holiday
The 22nd state became the first in the nation to officially recognize Christmas as a holiday, which wouldn’t become a federal holiday until 1870.
1896 – John Philip Sousa Writes “Stars and Stripes Forever”
John Philip Sousa, legendary director of the U.S. Marine Band, composed “Stars and Stripes Forever” on Christmas Day during a return trip from Europe across the Atlantic Ocean. His homesickness inspired the patriotic march, which became the official National March of the United States of America in 1987.
1944 – General Patton Prays for Deliverance
As Gen. George S. Patton’s army attempted to relieve encircled U.S. forces in the Battle of the Bulge, wintry weather continued to sweep across Europe. Conditions were so bad that they threatened his timetable. Patton contacted James H. O’Neill, the Head Chaplain of the Third Army to deliver a prayer for good weather. O’Neill wrote a prayer, which went to every soldier in Patton’s Third Army. The next day the weather cleared for six straight days, allowing the Allies to deliver a knockout blow. On Christmas Eve, Patton pinned O’Neill with the Bronze Star Medal.
1968 – Apollo 8 Orbits the Moon
In one of the most-watched events in television history, the astronauts of Apollo 8 became the first men to orbit the moon and view the Earth from the natural satellite’s dark side on Christmas Eve. As the nation watched the otherworldly images from their spacecraft with rapt attention, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders read lines from the Bible’s Book of Genesis. The trio capped off their oration with the now-famous line: “Merry Christmas and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”