History and the Holidays

With Christmas coming up, I thought to write a new solely history post.  Too many of the last few years have been reviews of history books instead.  After all, many important historical events too place around this time of year.  Here are a few of the most recent.

Famous painting of George Washington crossing the Deleware River

Famous painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware River. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

During the American Revolution, George Washington led his troops in crossing the Delaware River on the night of December 25th, 1776.  Despite the fact that in those days war came to a halt during the winter, Washington’s bold and daring plan was a military success.  He caught the Hessian unaware early the next morning, most still hungover and asleep.  This allowed Washington to capture the Hessian, he was able to secure desperately needed supplies for his one troops.  The battle also set the stage for the Battle of Princeton early in the new year.

London Illustrated News WWI Christmas Truce Drawing

London Illustrated News WWI Christmas Truce Drawing. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Famously portrayed in the movie Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas; I highly recommend this move, by the way) is the World War I Christmas Truce.  Occurring in 1914 on Christmas Eve and Day, all across the lines the British and French forces and the German forces came together to celebrate.  Depending on the location, they sang carols, shared meals, played soccer, and/or swapped stories from home.  For about twenty-four hours the two sides got to know each other a bit and could hope for peace.

FDR and Churchill at the White House, December 1941

FDR and Churchill in a meeting at the White House, December, 1941. Source: NARA via Wikimedia Commons.

Just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Sir Winston Churchill made plans to conference with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Washington, DC.  Crossing the Atlantic by ship, Churchill arrived days before the holiday and stayed with the Roosevelts in the White House.  During a nearly month-long period, they and their top military and political leaders discussed how to handle the war (Europe first), both men made speeches to the nation, and they laid the backbone of the formation of the United Nations .  Churchill even joined Roosevelt to attend a Methodist church service in Christmas day.  Also, on Christmas Day 1941, Admiral Chester Nimitz arrived in Pearl Harbor to take command of the remainder of the Pacific Fleet.  In the Philippines during this same period, General Douglas MacArthur retreated to Corregidor under the attack of the Japanese.

"American infantrymen of the 290th Regiment fight in fresh snowfall near Amonines, Belgium. January 4, 1945."

“American infantrymen of the 290th Regiment fight in fresh snowfall near Amonines, Belgium. January 4, 1945.” Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Three years later in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium and Luxembourg, the Allied forces thought the end was near and that they would soon cross the Rhine into Germany, ending World War II.  However, on December 16, the Germans counter attacked.  The ensuing battle, lasting until January 25th, 1945, became known as the Battle of the Bulge.  During this time, men of both sides faced extreme cold.  Perhaps the most famous action within the battle was the Siege of Bastogne.  While the recently released book, Ardennes 1944: Hitler’s Last Gamble by Anthony Beevor by should cover this more in-depth and for those preferring film, this was depicted in The Band of Brothers miniseries (also a book of the same name).

Oh, and despite the fact historian Stanley Weintraub has written books on the latter three events (Silent Night, Pearl Harbor Christmas, and 11 Days in December), I do not recommend them.  Much of the information is in better books and I have found continuity errors.  Also, he often names people or uses people’s nicknames without the reader ever learning who they were.

Also, play around with the links.  Many lead to the History Channel website and have video clips in addition to articles about the subject linked to it.

Do you wish to highlight another event that occurred around Christmas time?  Or even around Hanukkah (which is after all, usually in December). If so, please comment.  Also, feel free to suggest other books, movies, and resources in these events!

Happy Holidays!


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