History Articles

History of the Feast of St. John: Which St. John?

December 27, 2019 /
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St. John

St. John

HISTORY OF THE FEAST OF ST. JOHN

December 27, since the 5th century, has marked the day in the church calendar for celebrating the life of St. John the Evangelist and is known as the Feast of St. John. We’ve already mentioned that the day before, December 26 is the Feast of St. Stephen. On the following day, December 28 is the Feast of The Holy Innocents, referring to those babies killed by King Herod the Great in Bethlehem.

Which St. John is celebrated in this feast? It is not John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus; rather it’s the young disciple of Christ, known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Tradition holds that he is the author of the Gospel of John, the Epistles of John (I, II, and III John) as well as the Book of Revelation, also known as The Apocalypse. He’s also known as John the Apostle, John the Divine, John the Theologian, and John of Patmos. Why?
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History of Boxing Day: and Feast of St. Stephen

December 26, 2019 /
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Boxing Day

Boxing Day

HISTORY OF BOXING DAY

Boxing Day, while unfamiliar to many Americans, is a well known holiday among the countries of the British Commonwealth. It is celebrated on December 26 as a public holiday in the UK, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand, South Africa, and parts of Australia.

Though some believe it has to do with the need to dispose of empty boxes on the day following Christmas, it has nothing to do with that, nor has it anything to do with pugilistic fisticuffs. It is the second day of Christmastide, and some European countries celebrate it as “Second Christmas Day,” but there’s more.

St. Stephen

St. Stephen

St. Stephen’s Day

In Britain, Boxing Day is also known by the name St. Stephen’s Day. Stephen, a man “possessing great wisdom and full of the Spirit,” was the first Christian martyr as recorded in Chapter 7 of the Book of the Acts of The Apostles in the Bible. He was one of the first deacons or ministers of the early church, serving table to the Hellenistic (non-Jewish) widows of the church who were being neglected.
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History of the Christmas Truce of 1914: Peace in the WWI Trenches

December 25, 2019 /
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Truce Gift Exchange

A shared smoke

HISTORY OF THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914

Over a century ago across the 400-mile battle line of Europe, World War I had claimed almost a million lives over the previous 5 months of battle. The Great War, “the war to end all wars” was about to experience something almost unheard of in two thousand years of warfare: a temporary though unofficial truce. As Christmas Eve fell in the trenches of Flanders Field, German soldiers had erected Christmas Trees with lighted candles.

At about 8:30 pm as the firing of guns began to subside the Germans began to sing “Stille Nacht.” The song was originally written in German, but the British soldiers knew the English words to “Silent Night.” Soldiers wrote in diaries during this time to tell of local armistices established between both sides, occurring across dozens of other locations along the battle line as well. German and British soldiers left their trenches. They crossed “No Man’s Land” to meet and exchanged gifts they’d received from home: chocolate, tobacco, alcohol, articles of clothing, buttons, badges, and hats. The British soldiers bartered tins of plum pudding and tobacco sent to them by King George. The Germans had pipes with a picture of the Crown Prince.
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History of Christmas Eve and the Battle of the Bulge: 75 Years Ago

December 24, 2019 /
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Snow Fighters

American troops in the Battle of the Bulge

HISTORY OF CHRISTMAS EVE AND THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE: 75 YEARS AGO

On Christmas Eve, 1944, my father, Staff Sergeant John Petro, had arrived in Strasbourg with the 42nd “Rainbow” Infantry Division. Eight days earlier, the Battle of the Bulge had begun, and the 42nd Division, along with others, supplied much-needed reinforcements to the biggest and bloodiest battle of World War II involving American forces.

The German Wacht am Rhein “Watch on the Rhine” offensive had begun a week before my father arrived. By Christmas Eve, the American troops at the Battle of the Bulge had taken heavy casualties, and reinforcements were very much needed. The bad weather had weakened the American supply lines. The winter of 1944 was one of the coldest in recorded history; temperatures averaged 20 degrees. Frostbite was rampant.

Of all the uniformed American troops in the world at that time, 1/8th participated in the Battle of the Bulge

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History of the Santa Tracker: How a Typo began Christmas tracking at NORAD

December 23, 2019 /
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Santa TrackerHISTORY OF THE NORAD SANTA TRACKER

How did a typo in my local newspaper erroneously connect to the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Operations Center, now at NORAD here in Colorado Springs, with requests for the flight location of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve in 1955 — and in years since?

And how can you check in on him this year?

NORAD

Back in 1955, the home of the Continental Air Defense Command would eventually become NORAD in 1958. You’ve probably heard of NORAD in movies like Dr. Strangelove, Fail-Safe, WarGames, and ID-4. The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is a joint US/Canadian military installation that sits 1,600 feet deep inside Cheyenne Mountain here in Colorado Springs. When it was built in the late ’50s and early ’60s, it was intended to be able to handle a nuclear blast outside. Even in this day of MIRV nuclear missiles, NORAD remains its reputation as a self-contained bunker, and for years has been responsible for scanning the airspace above North America for missiles, aircraft, and near-space objects. I’ve visited the missile command center and seen the “big board” during operations, though the displays have only unclassified information when visitors look in.

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History of Chanukah: The Festival of Lights

December 22, 2019 /
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Chanukah Menorah

Menorah

HISTORY OF CHANUKAH

Today at sundown, December 22th begins Chanukah. It is also spelled Hanukkah, meaning “dedication.” This Jewish holiday traces its roots back more than 2,000 years.

History

At that time, the Jewish people were living under the oppressive government of the Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes IV (a rather ironic name — Epiphanes means “God Manifest”) who was a descendant of Seleucus, the general of Alexander the Great.

When Alexander died, he left no legitimate heir (that survived); instead, his empire was divided among the Diadochi, his surviving generals. For several centuries the divided empire was ruled by the rival dynasties of two of his generals:  Ptolemy controlled the south in Egypt; Cleopatra was the last of his line in the first century BC. In the north, Seleucus controlled Syria; his descendant was Antiochus Epiphanies IV, who controlled Judea in the 2nd century BC. (more…)

Is Die Hard Really A Christmas Movie?

December 21, 2019 /
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die hardIS DIE HARD REALLY A CHRISTMAS MOVIE?

Scholars and historians have debated the question “Is Die Hard a Christmas Movie?” for centuries. Or at least during the last three decades since the movie was released. This is why readers have turned to me, your friendly neighborhood historian, to wrestle with this age-old question and help them resolve this dilemma. In this article, I will assemble ancient history, linguistic legerdemain, modern science, and contemporary film criticism to address this question.

The debate has raged amongst the tragically online and is perennially in full bloom during the Christmas season on Twitter. The participants typically fall into two camps, the “Duh!” and the “Nuh uh.”

I divide this debate thusly:

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Science of the Winter Solstice

December 20, 2019 /
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Winter SolsticeSCIENCE OF THE WINTER SOLSTICE

As we’ve mentioned before, the Romans celebrated a holiday known as the Saturnalia beginning on the Winter Solstice. The word Solstice comes from the Latin “solstitium” meaning “Sun, standing still.” This year it will occur on December 22 at 04:19 GMT (or UTC) and marks the first day of the Winter season in the Northern Hemisphere from an astronomical perspective.

Seasons

Earth enjoys different seasons because the planet is tilted 23 degrees and 27 minutes off the perpendicular to the plane of orbit. This means that the earth revolves like a tilted spinning top. The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of sunlight as the Sun is at its lowest arc in the sky, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. The farther north one is from the Equator, the more pronounced this is in Winter. However, as the Earth continues its orbit, the hemisphere that is angled closest to the sun changes, and the seasons are reversed.

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History of A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas

December 19, 2019 /
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A Christmas CarolHISTORY OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL

On December 19, 1843, Charles Dickens’ novella “A Christmas Carol” was published in London, its first edition sold out by Christmas Eve. No other book or story by Dickens, or anyone else (except the Bible,) has been more enjoyed, referred to, criticized, or more frequently adapted to other forms of media: theatre, opera, radio, film, TV, or comics. One of my favorite versions was watching Patrick Stewart performing his one-man version of the play at the Old Vic Theatre in London back in the early ’90s.

Reinventing Christmas

None of Dickens’ other works is more widely recognized or celebrated within the English-speaking world. Some scholars have even claimed that in publishing A Christmas Carol, Dickens single-handedly invented the modern form of the Christmas holiday in England and the United States. The movie “The Man Who Invented Christmas” argues that very point.

Indeed, the great British thinker G. K. Chesterton noted long ago, with “A Christmas Carol,” Dickens succeeded in transforming Christmas from a sacred festival into a family feast. In so doing, he brought the holiday inside the home. He thus made it accessible to ordinary people, who were now able to participate directly in the celebration rather than merely witnessing its performance in church. I wrote about the life of Charles Dickens a few years ago on the anniversary of his 200th birthday here.
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