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Episode
118

9 Things That Happened on Christmas Day

First published on
December 25, 2020
History
-
18
minutes
Christmas
Weird history
European history
The Cold War
World War I

You might think that nothing of historical importance ever happens on Christmas Day, but you'd be wrong.

Here are 9 weird and wonderful events.

The one thing they have in common? They all happened on December 25th.

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Download transcript & key vocabulary pdf
Download transcript & key vocabulary pdfDownload transcript & key vocabulary pdf

Transcript

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today, if you are listening to this podcast on the day it’s released, is Christmas Day.

[00:00:29] So, Happy Christmas, I hope you are having a fantastic day. 

[00:00:33] Today’s episode has a Christmas theme, and we are going to talk about 9 things that happened on Christmas Day.

[00:00:41] Now, Christmas Day is normally a day of celebration, of being with friends and family, so you would be mistaken for thinking that not many notable things happened on this day.

[00:00:54] But, there are quite a few interesting historical events that happened on this day, and in today's episode you are going to learn about 9 of them. 

[00:01:04] Before we get right into that though, let me quickly remind you that you can follow along to this episode with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary, so you don’t miss a word and build up your vocabulary as you go, over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:21] If you’re ready to make 2021 the year you really focus on improving your English, and you didn’t find a Leonardo English gift card in your stocking this morning, then I’d definitely recommend checking out becoming a member.

[00:01:35] The place to go for that is leonardoenglish.com

[00:01:42] OK, then Christmas Day, December the 25th, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

[00:01:49] As you may well know, there is actually very little evidence that Jesus of Nazareth was born on this day.

[00:01:57] The Bible doesn’t specify the date that Jesus was born, and it’s now believed that the date of December 25th was chosen to coincide with a Roman festival and the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, which actually falls on the 21st of December.

[00:02:18] So, this tale starts by saying that the most famous event to happen on Christmas Day, the birth of Jesus Christ, most likely didn’t even take place on this day.

[00:02:32] But there are plenty of other interesting events that did happen on Christmas Day, the first of which is the crowning of Charlemagne, and the creation of the position of the Holy Roman Emperor.

[00:02:45] Charlemagne, or Charles the First, was the King of the Franks, rulers of most of modern day France.

[00:02:54] After a series of successful military campaigns in Western Europe, and converting everyone he conquered to Christianity, on Christmas Day of the year 800 he was rewarded by the pope with the position of Holy Roman Emperor.

[00:03:12] His appointment by the pope essentially made him a divinely appointed leader, responsible for the protection of the Royal Catholic Church throughout Europe.

[00:03:24] By this time Charlemagne controlled large parts of Western Europe, including much of modern day France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany.

[00:03:37] He has been called the Father of Europe, and did a huge amount to unite a continent that hadn’t been controlled by one power since the Romans.

[00:03:48] So, that was on Christmas Day 800, the height of Charlemagne’s power.

[00:03:54] Our next event is one that is perhaps less important on a European scale, but is certainly very important in Britain. 

[00:04:04] And that is the coronation of William the Conqueror, the Norman invader who set sail from northern France, landed in Britain on the 28th of September 1066, beat King Harold at the Battle of Hastings, and on the 25th of December 1066 was crowned King of England.

[00:04:28] This was almost 1000 years ago, but William The Conqueror has had a huge impact on Britain, doing things like imposing the feudal system, building large castles, reorganising the church, and of course changing the language, introducing lots of Norman words with Latin origins to English, which was previously a predominantly Anglo-Saxon language.

[00:04:55] He was also the first and only Frenchman to successfully conquer Britain, although the fact that William The Conqueror was ultimately French has been conveniently forgotten in most of British history.

[00:05:10] Almost 700 years later, in 1741, our third Christmas Day event involves the Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius.

[00:05:21] If you haven’t heard of the name, you probably can guess what Anders Celcius is famous for - the measurement of temperature that most of the world uses, Celsius.

[00:05:33] It was on Christmas Day 1741 that he is said to have developed his measurement of temperature, Celsius.

[00:05:42] Interestingly enough, when he first created it he decided that 0 should be the temperature of boiling water, and 100 should be the temperature when water freezes, and it wasn’t until after his death that this was switched.

[00:06:01] So, that was Christmas Day 1741.

[00:06:06] Fast forward to 1868, and it was on Christmas Day that the President of the United States, Andrew Johnson issued a final pardon to the Confederate soldiers. 

[00:06:20] Just as a quick reminder, the American Civil War lasted for 4 years, from 1861 to 1865. The Confederates, who were predominantly Southerners and pro slave ownership, had broken away from the United States and declared war on the Union. Americans had suffered 4 years of war, and naturally there was still a lot of bad feeling from Unionists towards Confederates.

[00:06:53] In the previous few years Johnson had issued pardons to some Confederate soldiers, but there were limits, and they had had to do things like swear their allegiance to the United States.

[00:07:06] The final pardon, on Christmas Day 1868 pardoned everyone who had fought against the United States in the Civil War, and was one of Johnson’s last, certainly not obvious, and debatably most important acts as president.

[00:07:25] Christmas Day event number 5 took place in 1914, in the fields of Northern France, during the first Christmas of the First World War.

[00:07:37] Now, you’ve probably heard tales of this, and it’s often pointed at as an unlikely display of shared humanity in an otherwise inhumane period, and that is the spontaneous holiday ceasefire, a putting down of weapons, and 24 hours of peace between the two fighting sides.

[00:08:01] The story goes that on the evening of December 24th the Germans had decorated their trenches with Christmas trees and candles, and began singing Christmas songs. 

[00:08:16] The British responded with their own Christmas songs, and eventually the men from the two sides went up over the top, into no man’s land, and greeted each other.

[00:08:29] They shared cigarettes, whisky, and shook each other’s hands. There’s even a report of a game of football.

[00:08:38] It’s really pretty mad to think that these two sides had been massacring each other with machine guns just hours before, and then the following day, and for another almost 4 years they would continue to do so, but it is one example of how, even in the most tragic of circumstances, people can find a shared sense of brotherhood.

[00:09:03] Continuing the theme of a shared humanity, but on a slightly more positive note, brings us to our 6th Christmas Day event, in 1968, and that was the first time humans ever left the Earth’s gravitational pull.

[00:09:22] This event is a little bit of a cheat because it actually started on Christmas Eve, on December the 24th, but it’s certainly worth mentioning.

[00:09:34] In 1968, on Christmas Eve, there was a live broadcast from the space shuttle Apollo 8. 

[00:09:42] The astronauts had left Earth’s orbit and were circling around the moon. 

[00:09:48] In this iconic piece of footage viewers could see the Earth emerging from behind the moon. 

[00:09:56] You have probably seen a picture that the astronauts took during this broadcast, the photo is nicknamed Earthrise.

[00:10:05] As the astronauts filmed this broadcast they read the book of Genesis from the Bible, and ended the broadcast with the phrase “Good luck, Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth”. 

[00:10:20] The astronauts ended up orbiting the moon 10 times on Christmas Eve, then on Christmas morning they managed to leave the moon’s orbit, returning back to Earth on December the 27th. 

[00:10:35] Man wasn’t to land on the moon until later on, in 1969, but this mission was remarkable for the fact that it was the first time that humans had ever left the Earth’s orbit.

[00:10:50] After that uplifting message, it’s time for another not so uplifting one, or perhaps it’s uplifting if you’re Romanian. And it relates to Nicolae Ceaușescu.

[00:11:03] As a bit of background here, Ceaușescu was the last Communist leader of Romania, and had been the head of state since 1974. 

[00:11:14] His rule was harsh and totalitarian, he ran up huge foreign debts, and poverty soared in Romania. By the late 1980s the Romanian people had grown tired of him, and there was rioting and civil unrest.

[00:11:33] On Christmas Day of 1989, just 4 days after his famous last speech in Bucharest’s Revolution Square, Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife, Elena, were executed.

[00:11:48] He had tried to run from the capital to escape the protestors, but was caught, tried in a court, found guilty of crimes such as genocide and the illegal gathering of wealth, then taken out the back and shot.

[00:12:06] Indeed, the Ceausescus were actually the last people to be executed in Romania, before capital punishment was abolished the following year.

[00:12:16] Event number 8, our penultimate Christmas Day event, is certainly one that is uplifting, and has been hugely beneficial to mankind.

[00:12:26] It happened exactly a year after the Ceausescus’ execution, on Christmas Day 1990,  and that was the first live testing of what we now call the World Wide Web, or just the Web for short. 

[00:12:43] Now, you might think of the World Wide Web as the same as the Internet, but they aren’t exactly the same thing. The Internet is the system of computers all over the world that are connected together, and the World Wide Web is the system by which you can access files and pages on the internet. 

[00:13:05] The World Wide Web runs on the Internet, but the Internet had existed 20 years before it.

[00:13:13] As you may know, the web was developed at CERN to share information between scientists, but it was on Christmas Day in 1990 that there was the first functional communication between a web browser, the software you use to browse the web, and an internet server.

[00:13:34]This may not have seemed like such a huge deal at the time, but it has probably had the largest impact on mine and your day-to-day lives of any of the other events we've talked about today. 

[00:13:48] Without it, you wouldn’t be listening to me now.

[00:13:51] So, thanks to Tim Berners-Lee, its inventor. That really was a great Christmas present to us all.

[00:13:59] And our final Christmas event again goes back to the theme of the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

[00:14:06] Two years after Ceausescu was thrown out of power and executed, on Christmas Day 1991 Mikhael Gorbachev met a similar fate, albeit significantly less dramatic. 

[00:14:20] He only resigned.

[00:14:23] Again, just to recap, Gorbachev was the eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union. 

[00:14:29] He was elected leader in 1985, and was hugely influential in reforming the country, but ultimately he wasn’t able to save it.

[00:14:40] By 1991, the writing was on the wall for Gorbachev and the country he was ruler of. 

[00:14:46] There were growing pro-independence movements throughout the Soviet Union, and even a growing independence movement within Russia. 

[00:14:55] And just to clarify, Russia, or the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic was the largest of the administrative units of the Soviet Union.

[00:15:07] Boris Yeltsin, who had been elected president of Russia earlier on that year, had declared that Russia, Belarus and Ukraine were forming a new commonwealth, and he was then joined by 8 other Soviet republics. 

[00:15:23] There was simply no way that the Soviet Union could continue to exist, and Gorbachev realised that he had run out of options to stay in power.

[00:15:35] In a televised address Gorbachev resigned his position as President of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union flag was lowered above the Kremlin for the last time and replaced by the Russian one, and with that the Soviet Union was over.  

[00:15:53] So that was Christmas Day 1991.

[00:15:56] So, we have whizzed through those 9 Christmas Day events, each of which could probably have their own episode, but I hope it has at least given you a taste of a few things that happened on this day.

[00:16:11] At least now if someone says to you ‘nothing important ever happens on Christmas Day’, you can respond with, ‘well actually….’

[00:16:22] OK then, that is it for today’s episode. 

[00:16:25] It’s a little shorter than usual, but you probably have many other things to be doing on Christmas day than listening to this podcast.  

[00:16:34] So, if you are listening to this on Christmas Day, Merry Christmas, I hope you have a good one.

[00:16:39] And if you're listening to this after Christmas, then I hope you too had a fantastic day.

[00:16:46] I’d also just very briefly like to thank my wife, who reviewed this episode and told me to remove an anecdote about William the Conqueror’s stomach exploding, so you will have to wait for a dedicated episode on William the Conqueror to hear all about that disgusting story.

[00:17:05] And as a final reminder, if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, to unlock the transcripts, the subtitles, and all of the key vocabulary, and you are ready to make 2021 the year you really push to improve your English, then I’d recommend checking out becoming a member of Leonardo English.

[00:17:31] The place to go for that to is leonardoenglish.com

[00:17:36] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English

[00:17:41] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF PODCAST]


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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today, if you are listening to this podcast on the day it’s released, is Christmas Day.

[00:00:29] So, Happy Christmas, I hope you are having a fantastic day. 

[00:00:33] Today’s episode has a Christmas theme, and we are going to talk about 9 things that happened on Christmas Day.

[00:00:41] Now, Christmas Day is normally a day of celebration, of being with friends and family, so you would be mistaken for thinking that not many notable things happened on this day.

[00:00:54] But, there are quite a few interesting historical events that happened on this day, and in today's episode you are going to learn about 9 of them. 

[00:01:04] Before we get right into that though, let me quickly remind you that you can follow along to this episode with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary, so you don’t miss a word and build up your vocabulary as you go, over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:21] If you’re ready to make 2021 the year you really focus on improving your English, and you didn’t find a Leonardo English gift card in your stocking this morning, then I’d definitely recommend checking out becoming a member.

[00:01:35] The place to go for that is leonardoenglish.com

[00:01:42] OK, then Christmas Day, December the 25th, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

[00:01:49] As you may well know, there is actually very little evidence that Jesus of Nazareth was born on this day.

[00:01:57] The Bible doesn’t specify the date that Jesus was born, and it’s now believed that the date of December 25th was chosen to coincide with a Roman festival and the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, which actually falls on the 21st of December.

[00:02:18] So, this tale starts by saying that the most famous event to happen on Christmas Day, the birth of Jesus Christ, most likely didn’t even take place on this day.

[00:02:32] But there are plenty of other interesting events that did happen on Christmas Day, the first of which is the crowning of Charlemagne, and the creation of the position of the Holy Roman Emperor.

[00:02:45] Charlemagne, or Charles the First, was the King of the Franks, rulers of most of modern day France.

[00:02:54] After a series of successful military campaigns in Western Europe, and converting everyone he conquered to Christianity, on Christmas Day of the year 800 he was rewarded by the pope with the position of Holy Roman Emperor.

[00:03:12] His appointment by the pope essentially made him a divinely appointed leader, responsible for the protection of the Royal Catholic Church throughout Europe.

[00:03:24] By this time Charlemagne controlled large parts of Western Europe, including much of modern day France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany.

[00:03:37] He has been called the Father of Europe, and did a huge amount to unite a continent that hadn’t been controlled by one power since the Romans.

[00:03:48] So, that was on Christmas Day 800, the height of Charlemagne’s power.

[00:03:54] Our next event is one that is perhaps less important on a European scale, but is certainly very important in Britain. 

[00:04:04] And that is the coronation of William the Conqueror, the Norman invader who set sail from northern France, landed in Britain on the 28th of September 1066, beat King Harold at the Battle of Hastings, and on the 25th of December 1066 was crowned King of England.

[00:04:28] This was almost 1000 years ago, but William The Conqueror has had a huge impact on Britain, doing things like imposing the feudal system, building large castles, reorganising the church, and of course changing the language, introducing lots of Norman words with Latin origins to English, which was previously a predominantly Anglo-Saxon language.

[00:04:55] He was also the first and only Frenchman to successfully conquer Britain, although the fact that William The Conqueror was ultimately French has been conveniently forgotten in most of British history.

[00:05:10] Almost 700 years later, in 1741, our third Christmas Day event involves the Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius.

[00:05:21] If you haven’t heard of the name, you probably can guess what Anders Celcius is famous for - the measurement of temperature that most of the world uses, Celsius.

[00:05:33] It was on Christmas Day 1741 that he is said to have developed his measurement of temperature, Celsius.

[00:05:42] Interestingly enough, when he first created it he decided that 0 should be the temperature of boiling water, and 100 should be the temperature when water freezes, and it wasn’t until after his death that this was switched.

[00:06:01] So, that was Christmas Day 1741.

[00:06:06] Fast forward to 1868, and it was on Christmas Day that the President of the United States, Andrew Johnson issued a final pardon to the Confederate soldiers. 

[00:06:20] Just as a quick reminder, the American Civil War lasted for 4 years, from 1861 to 1865. The Confederates, who were predominantly Southerners and pro slave ownership, had broken away from the United States and declared war on the Union. Americans had suffered 4 years of war, and naturally there was still a lot of bad feeling from Unionists towards Confederates.

[00:06:53] In the previous few years Johnson had issued pardons to some Confederate soldiers, but there were limits, and they had had to do things like swear their allegiance to the United States.

[00:07:06] The final pardon, on Christmas Day 1868 pardoned everyone who had fought against the United States in the Civil War, and was one of Johnson’s last, certainly not obvious, and debatably most important acts as president.

[00:07:25] Christmas Day event number 5 took place in 1914, in the fields of Northern France, during the first Christmas of the First World War.

[00:07:37] Now, you’ve probably heard tales of this, and it’s often pointed at as an unlikely display of shared humanity in an otherwise inhumane period, and that is the spontaneous holiday ceasefire, a putting down of weapons, and 24 hours of peace between the two fighting sides.

[00:08:01] The story goes that on the evening of December 24th the Germans had decorated their trenches with Christmas trees and candles, and began singing Christmas songs. 

[00:08:16] The British responded with their own Christmas songs, and eventually the men from the two sides went up over the top, into no man’s land, and greeted each other.

[00:08:29] They shared cigarettes, whisky, and shook each other’s hands. There’s even a report of a game of football.

[00:08:38] It’s really pretty mad to think that these two sides had been massacring each other with machine guns just hours before, and then the following day, and for another almost 4 years they would continue to do so, but it is one example of how, even in the most tragic of circumstances, people can find a shared sense of brotherhood.

[00:09:03] Continuing the theme of a shared humanity, but on a slightly more positive note, brings us to our 6th Christmas Day event, in 1968, and that was the first time humans ever left the Earth’s gravitational pull.

[00:09:22] This event is a little bit of a cheat because it actually started on Christmas Eve, on December the 24th, but it’s certainly worth mentioning.

[00:09:34] In 1968, on Christmas Eve, there was a live broadcast from the space shuttle Apollo 8. 

[00:09:42] The astronauts had left Earth’s orbit and were circling around the moon. 

[00:09:48] In this iconic piece of footage viewers could see the Earth emerging from behind the moon. 

[00:09:56] You have probably seen a picture that the astronauts took during this broadcast, the photo is nicknamed Earthrise.

[00:10:05] As the astronauts filmed this broadcast they read the book of Genesis from the Bible, and ended the broadcast with the phrase “Good luck, Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth”. 

[00:10:20] The astronauts ended up orbiting the moon 10 times on Christmas Eve, then on Christmas morning they managed to leave the moon’s orbit, returning back to Earth on December the 27th. 

[00:10:35] Man wasn’t to land on the moon until later on, in 1969, but this mission was remarkable for the fact that it was the first time that humans had ever left the Earth’s orbit.

[00:10:50] After that uplifting message, it’s time for another not so uplifting one, or perhaps it’s uplifting if you’re Romanian. And it relates to Nicolae Ceaușescu.

[00:11:03] As a bit of background here, Ceaușescu was the last Communist leader of Romania, and had been the head of state since 1974. 

[00:11:14] His rule was harsh and totalitarian, he ran up huge foreign debts, and poverty soared in Romania. By the late 1980s the Romanian people had grown tired of him, and there was rioting and civil unrest.

[00:11:33] On Christmas Day of 1989, just 4 days after his famous last speech in Bucharest’s Revolution Square, Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife, Elena, were executed.

[00:11:48] He had tried to run from the capital to escape the protestors, but was caught, tried in a court, found guilty of crimes such as genocide and the illegal gathering of wealth, then taken out the back and shot.

[00:12:06] Indeed, the Ceausescus were actually the last people to be executed in Romania, before capital punishment was abolished the following year.

[00:12:16] Event number 8, our penultimate Christmas Day event, is certainly one that is uplifting, and has been hugely beneficial to mankind.

[00:12:26] It happened exactly a year after the Ceausescus’ execution, on Christmas Day 1990,  and that was the first live testing of what we now call the World Wide Web, or just the Web for short. 

[00:12:43] Now, you might think of the World Wide Web as the same as the Internet, but they aren’t exactly the same thing. The Internet is the system of computers all over the world that are connected together, and the World Wide Web is the system by which you can access files and pages on the internet. 

[00:13:05] The World Wide Web runs on the Internet, but the Internet had existed 20 years before it.

[00:13:13] As you may know, the web was developed at CERN to share information between scientists, but it was on Christmas Day in 1990 that there was the first functional communication between a web browser, the software you use to browse the web, and an internet server.

[00:13:34]This may not have seemed like such a huge deal at the time, but it has probably had the largest impact on mine and your day-to-day lives of any of the other events we've talked about today. 

[00:13:48] Without it, you wouldn’t be listening to me now.

[00:13:51] So, thanks to Tim Berners-Lee, its inventor. That really was a great Christmas present to us all.

[00:13:59] And our final Christmas event again goes back to the theme of the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

[00:14:06] Two years after Ceausescu was thrown out of power and executed, on Christmas Day 1991 Mikhael Gorbachev met a similar fate, albeit significantly less dramatic. 

[00:14:20] He only resigned.

[00:14:23] Again, just to recap, Gorbachev was the eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union. 

[00:14:29] He was elected leader in 1985, and was hugely influential in reforming the country, but ultimately he wasn’t able to save it.

[00:14:40] By 1991, the writing was on the wall for Gorbachev and the country he was ruler of. 

[00:14:46] There were growing pro-independence movements throughout the Soviet Union, and even a growing independence movement within Russia. 

[00:14:55] And just to clarify, Russia, or the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic was the largest of the administrative units of the Soviet Union.

[00:15:07] Boris Yeltsin, who had been elected president of Russia earlier on that year, had declared that Russia, Belarus and Ukraine were forming a new commonwealth, and he was then joined by 8 other Soviet republics. 

[00:15:23] There was simply no way that the Soviet Union could continue to exist, and Gorbachev realised that he had run out of options to stay in power.

[00:15:35] In a televised address Gorbachev resigned his position as President of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union flag was lowered above the Kremlin for the last time and replaced by the Russian one, and with that the Soviet Union was over.  

[00:15:53] So that was Christmas Day 1991.

[00:15:56] So, we have whizzed through those 9 Christmas Day events, each of which could probably have their own episode, but I hope it has at least given you a taste of a few things that happened on this day.

[00:16:11] At least now if someone says to you ‘nothing important ever happens on Christmas Day’, you can respond with, ‘well actually….’

[00:16:22] OK then, that is it for today’s episode. 

[00:16:25] It’s a little shorter than usual, but you probably have many other things to be doing on Christmas day than listening to this podcast.  

[00:16:34] So, if you are listening to this on Christmas Day, Merry Christmas, I hope you have a good one.

[00:16:39] And if you're listening to this after Christmas, then I hope you too had a fantastic day.

[00:16:46] I’d also just very briefly like to thank my wife, who reviewed this episode and told me to remove an anecdote about William the Conqueror’s stomach exploding, so you will have to wait for a dedicated episode on William the Conqueror to hear all about that disgusting story.

[00:17:05] And as a final reminder, if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, to unlock the transcripts, the subtitles, and all of the key vocabulary, and you are ready to make 2021 the year you really push to improve your English, then I’d recommend checking out becoming a member of Leonardo English.

[00:17:31] The place to go for that to is leonardoenglish.com

[00:17:36] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English

[00:17:41] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF PODCAST]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today, if you are listening to this podcast on the day it’s released, is Christmas Day.

[00:00:29] So, Happy Christmas, I hope you are having a fantastic day. 

[00:00:33] Today’s episode has a Christmas theme, and we are going to talk about 9 things that happened on Christmas Day.

[00:00:41] Now, Christmas Day is normally a day of celebration, of being with friends and family, so you would be mistaken for thinking that not many notable things happened on this day.

[00:00:54] But, there are quite a few interesting historical events that happened on this day, and in today's episode you are going to learn about 9 of them. 

[00:01:04] Before we get right into that though, let me quickly remind you that you can follow along to this episode with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary, so you don’t miss a word and build up your vocabulary as you go, over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:21] If you’re ready to make 2021 the year you really focus on improving your English, and you didn’t find a Leonardo English gift card in your stocking this morning, then I’d definitely recommend checking out becoming a member.

[00:01:35] The place to go for that is leonardoenglish.com

[00:01:42] OK, then Christmas Day, December the 25th, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

[00:01:49] As you may well know, there is actually very little evidence that Jesus of Nazareth was born on this day.

[00:01:57] The Bible doesn’t specify the date that Jesus was born, and it’s now believed that the date of December 25th was chosen to coincide with a Roman festival and the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, which actually falls on the 21st of December.

[00:02:18] So, this tale starts by saying that the most famous event to happen on Christmas Day, the birth of Jesus Christ, most likely didn’t even take place on this day.

[00:02:32] But there are plenty of other interesting events that did happen on Christmas Day, the first of which is the crowning of Charlemagne, and the creation of the position of the Holy Roman Emperor.

[00:02:45] Charlemagne, or Charles the First, was the King of the Franks, rulers of most of modern day France.

[00:02:54] After a series of successful military campaigns in Western Europe, and converting everyone he conquered to Christianity, on Christmas Day of the year 800 he was rewarded by the pope with the position of Holy Roman Emperor.

[00:03:12] His appointment by the pope essentially made him a divinely appointed leader, responsible for the protection of the Royal Catholic Church throughout Europe.

[00:03:24] By this time Charlemagne controlled large parts of Western Europe, including much of modern day France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany.

[00:03:37] He has been called the Father of Europe, and did a huge amount to unite a continent that hadn’t been controlled by one power since the Romans.

[00:03:48] So, that was on Christmas Day 800, the height of Charlemagne’s power.

[00:03:54] Our next event is one that is perhaps less important on a European scale, but is certainly very important in Britain. 

[00:04:04] And that is the coronation of William the Conqueror, the Norman invader who set sail from northern France, landed in Britain on the 28th of September 1066, beat King Harold at the Battle of Hastings, and on the 25th of December 1066 was crowned King of England.

[00:04:28] This was almost 1000 years ago, but William The Conqueror has had a huge impact on Britain, doing things like imposing the feudal system, building large castles, reorganising the church, and of course changing the language, introducing lots of Norman words with Latin origins to English, which was previously a predominantly Anglo-Saxon language.

[00:04:55] He was also the first and only Frenchman to successfully conquer Britain, although the fact that William The Conqueror was ultimately French has been conveniently forgotten in most of British history.

[00:05:10] Almost 700 years later, in 1741, our third Christmas Day event involves the Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius.

[00:05:21] If you haven’t heard of the name, you probably can guess what Anders Celcius is famous for - the measurement of temperature that most of the world uses, Celsius.

[00:05:33] It was on Christmas Day 1741 that he is said to have developed his measurement of temperature, Celsius.

[00:05:42] Interestingly enough, when he first created it he decided that 0 should be the temperature of boiling water, and 100 should be the temperature when water freezes, and it wasn’t until after his death that this was switched.

[00:06:01] So, that was Christmas Day 1741.

[00:06:06] Fast forward to 1868, and it was on Christmas Day that the President of the United States, Andrew Johnson issued a final pardon to the Confederate soldiers. 

[00:06:20] Just as a quick reminder, the American Civil War lasted for 4 years, from 1861 to 1865. The Confederates, who were predominantly Southerners and pro slave ownership, had broken away from the United States and declared war on the Union. Americans had suffered 4 years of war, and naturally there was still a lot of bad feeling from Unionists towards Confederates.

[00:06:53] In the previous few years Johnson had issued pardons to some Confederate soldiers, but there were limits, and they had had to do things like swear their allegiance to the United States.

[00:07:06] The final pardon, on Christmas Day 1868 pardoned everyone who had fought against the United States in the Civil War, and was one of Johnson’s last, certainly not obvious, and debatably most important acts as president.

[00:07:25] Christmas Day event number 5 took place in 1914, in the fields of Northern France, during the first Christmas of the First World War.

[00:07:37] Now, you’ve probably heard tales of this, and it’s often pointed at as an unlikely display of shared humanity in an otherwise inhumane period, and that is the spontaneous holiday ceasefire, a putting down of weapons, and 24 hours of peace between the two fighting sides.

[00:08:01] The story goes that on the evening of December 24th the Germans had decorated their trenches with Christmas trees and candles, and began singing Christmas songs. 

[00:08:16] The British responded with their own Christmas songs, and eventually the men from the two sides went up over the top, into no man’s land, and greeted each other.

[00:08:29] They shared cigarettes, whisky, and shook each other’s hands. There’s even a report of a game of football.

[00:08:38] It’s really pretty mad to think that these two sides had been massacring each other with machine guns just hours before, and then the following day, and for another almost 4 years they would continue to do so, but it is one example of how, even in the most tragic of circumstances, people can find a shared sense of brotherhood.

[00:09:03] Continuing the theme of a shared humanity, but on a slightly more positive note, brings us to our 6th Christmas Day event, in 1968, and that was the first time humans ever left the Earth’s gravitational pull.

[00:09:22] This event is a little bit of a cheat because it actually started on Christmas Eve, on December the 24th, but it’s certainly worth mentioning.

[00:09:34] In 1968, on Christmas Eve, there was a live broadcast from the space shuttle Apollo 8. 

[00:09:42] The astronauts had left Earth’s orbit and were circling around the moon. 

[00:09:48] In this iconic piece of footage viewers could see the Earth emerging from behind the moon. 

[00:09:56] You have probably seen a picture that the astronauts took during this broadcast, the photo is nicknamed Earthrise.

[00:10:05] As the astronauts filmed this broadcast they read the book of Genesis from the Bible, and ended the broadcast with the phrase “Good luck, Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth”. 

[00:10:20] The astronauts ended up orbiting the moon 10 times on Christmas Eve, then on Christmas morning they managed to leave the moon’s orbit, returning back to Earth on December the 27th. 

[00:10:35] Man wasn’t to land on the moon until later on, in 1969, but this mission was remarkable for the fact that it was the first time that humans had ever left the Earth’s orbit.

[00:10:50] After that uplifting message, it’s time for another not so uplifting one, or perhaps it’s uplifting if you’re Romanian. And it relates to Nicolae Ceaușescu.

[00:11:03] As a bit of background here, Ceaușescu was the last Communist leader of Romania, and had been the head of state since 1974. 

[00:11:14] His rule was harsh and totalitarian, he ran up huge foreign debts, and poverty soared in Romania. By the late 1980s the Romanian people had grown tired of him, and there was rioting and civil unrest.

[00:11:33] On Christmas Day of 1989, just 4 days after his famous last speech in Bucharest’s Revolution Square, Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife, Elena, were executed.

[00:11:48] He had tried to run from the capital to escape the protestors, but was caught, tried in a court, found guilty of crimes such as genocide and the illegal gathering of wealth, then taken out the back and shot.

[00:12:06] Indeed, the Ceausescus were actually the last people to be executed in Romania, before capital punishment was abolished the following year.

[00:12:16] Event number 8, our penultimate Christmas Day event, is certainly one that is uplifting, and has been hugely beneficial to mankind.

[00:12:26] It happened exactly a year after the Ceausescus’ execution, on Christmas Day 1990,  and that was the first live testing of what we now call the World Wide Web, or just the Web for short. 

[00:12:43] Now, you might think of the World Wide Web as the same as the Internet, but they aren’t exactly the same thing. The Internet is the system of computers all over the world that are connected together, and the World Wide Web is the system by which you can access files and pages on the internet. 

[00:13:05] The World Wide Web runs on the Internet, but the Internet had existed 20 years before it.

[00:13:13] As you may know, the web was developed at CERN to share information between scientists, but it was on Christmas Day in 1990 that there was the first functional communication between a web browser, the software you use to browse the web, and an internet server.

[00:13:34]This may not have seemed like such a huge deal at the time, but it has probably had the largest impact on mine and your day-to-day lives of any of the other events we've talked about today. 

[00:13:48] Without it, you wouldn’t be listening to me now.

[00:13:51] So, thanks to Tim Berners-Lee, its inventor. That really was a great Christmas present to us all.

[00:13:59] And our final Christmas event again goes back to the theme of the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

[00:14:06] Two years after Ceausescu was thrown out of power and executed, on Christmas Day 1991 Mikhael Gorbachev met a similar fate, albeit significantly less dramatic. 

[00:14:20] He only resigned.

[00:14:23] Again, just to recap, Gorbachev was the eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union. 

[00:14:29] He was elected leader in 1985, and was hugely influential in reforming the country, but ultimately he wasn’t able to save it.

[00:14:40] By 1991, the writing was on the wall for Gorbachev and the country he was ruler of. 

[00:14:46] There were growing pro-independence movements throughout the Soviet Union, and even a growing independence movement within Russia. 

[00:14:55] And just to clarify, Russia, or the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic was the largest of the administrative units of the Soviet Union.

[00:15:07] Boris Yeltsin, who had been elected president of Russia earlier on that year, had declared that Russia, Belarus and Ukraine were forming a new commonwealth, and he was then joined by 8 other Soviet republics. 

[00:15:23] There was simply no way that the Soviet Union could continue to exist, and Gorbachev realised that he had run out of options to stay in power.

[00:15:35] In a televised address Gorbachev resigned his position as President of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union flag was lowered above the Kremlin for the last time and replaced by the Russian one, and with that the Soviet Union was over.  

[00:15:53] So that was Christmas Day 1991.

[00:15:56] So, we have whizzed through those 9 Christmas Day events, each of which could probably have their own episode, but I hope it has at least given you a taste of a few things that happened on this day.

[00:16:11] At least now if someone says to you ‘nothing important ever happens on Christmas Day’, you can respond with, ‘well actually….’

[00:16:22] OK then, that is it for today’s episode. 

[00:16:25] It’s a little shorter than usual, but you probably have many other things to be doing on Christmas day than listening to this podcast.  

[00:16:34] So, if you are listening to this on Christmas Day, Merry Christmas, I hope you have a good one.

[00:16:39] And if you're listening to this after Christmas, then I hope you too had a fantastic day.

[00:16:46] I’d also just very briefly like to thank my wife, who reviewed this episode and told me to remove an anecdote about William the Conqueror’s stomach exploding, so you will have to wait for a dedicated episode on William the Conqueror to hear all about that disgusting story.

[00:17:05] And as a final reminder, if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, to unlock the transcripts, the subtitles, and all of the key vocabulary, and you are ready to make 2021 the year you really push to improve your English, then I’d recommend checking out becoming a member of Leonardo English.

[00:17:31] The place to go for that to is leonardoenglish.com

[00:17:36] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English

[00:17:41] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


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