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Christmas in history

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270: The approximate birth date of St. Nicholas, the model for Santa Claus.

336: The first recorded celebration of Christmas on December 25 takes place in Rome.

1510: A "New Year's Tree" is erected in Riga's town square -- claimed by the Latvian capital to be the world's oldest Christmas tree. The German tradition became widely popular in the 19th century.

1642: Mathematician and physicist Isaac Newton is born on Christmas Day. Other famous Christmas Day births include actor Humphrey Bogart (1899), actress Sissy Spacek (1949), singer Annie Lennox (1954) and model Helena Christensen (1968).

1647: England's Puritan rulers banned Christmas, sparking weeks of rioting in cities across the country. In Puritan New England, Christmas was banned in Boston between 1659 and 1681.

1742: Handel's Messiah, one of the most popular of all choral works and one traditionally associated with Christmas, is first performed in Dublin, Ireland, with Handel himself conducting (he had composed the work in just 24 days in 1741).

1818: "Stille Nacht" or "Silent Night" by Franz Gruber and Joseph Mohr is performed for the first time in Oberndorf, Austria.

1843: Charles Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol" is published. In the same year the first ever Christmas card was created, by Englishman J.C. Horley, on the instructions of Sir Henry Cole.

1882: Electric lights were used for the first time to decorate a Christmas tree (by Edward H. Johnson, an associate of inventor Thomas Edison, who rigged up 80 red, white and blue electric bulbs on the tree in his house in New York).

1889: President Benjamin Harrison initiates the tradition of erecting a Christmas tree in the White House.

1914: British and German troops along a section of the Western Front around Ypres, Belgium, participate in the "Christmas Truce," exchanging gifts and singing carols. According to popular legend, a football match between the two sides was also played in No Man's Land.

1937: The first postage stamp to commemorate Christmas is issued in Austria.

1939: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer first appears. He was created by advertising copywriter Robert L. May as part of a promotional campaign for U.S. department store Montgomery Ward.

1941: Bing Crosby performs Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" on U.S. radio for the first time. The single goes on to sell more than 50 million copies, becoming the best-selling record ever.

1946: Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life," starring James Stewart, is released. The Christmas tale becomes one of the most popular movies in cinema history.

1957: In the UK Queen Elizabeth ll's annual Christmas message is televised for the first time (the custom of a royal Christmas message started in 1932 when King George V broadcast his message on the radio).

1958: The first radio broadcast from space ( a pre-recorded Christmas message from President Eisenhower).

1968: The crew of Apollo 8 -- Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders -- are the first humans to spend Christmas in space.

Actor James Stewart (right) in the 1946 film "It's a Wonderful Life."


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