Holidays are days of rest, relaxation and, surprisingly, world-changing events. Let us consider ten key events that occurred on four of the biggest holidays celebrated around the world: New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and Christmas.
10. Caesar, the God (New Year’s Day 42 BC)
We start with the first day of the year: the first of January, a month named for a Roman God, which is fitting considering that on January 1, 42 BC, the Roman Senate posthumously deified Julius Caesar. The notion of worshiping a “Caesar” as a God, whether they were actually a Caesar or not, would be continued by subsequent emperors until Christianity became the preeminent religion in the Roman Empire.
9. The British Empire in India (New Year’s Day 1877)
As big as the Roman Empire was, the British established an even bigger one, with a much more global scope. On January 1, 1877, this hodgepodge of colonies officially became a truly imperial entity, when Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom was proclaimed Empress of India, a title reflecting the height of the British Empire and one that Britain’s monarchs would hold until the aftermath of World War II.
8. The End of the Chinese Empire (New Year’s Day 1912)
Of course, New Year’s Day has also marked the end of another of history’s great Empires. On January 1, 1912, The Republic of China was established. After thousands of years of Chinese Empires, the imperial tradition largely came to an end, with only a few brief attempts at restoring it, in 1917 and under Emperor Manchukuo from 1934 to 1945.
7. The Telephone is Patented (Valentine’s Day 1876)
February may be a month most commonly associated with love and, for over a century now, lovers have kept in contact via one of the most important inventions of the modern age: the telephone. On Valentine’s Day 1876, Alexander Graham Bell applied for a patent for the phone, as did Elisha Gray. This invention revolutionized how humans communicate over distances and had consequences still being seen (and heard) today.
6. The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre (Valentine’s Day 1929)
Although not as influential as many of the other events on this list, the 1929 Saint Valentine’s Day massacre, in which seven people (six of them gangster rivals of Al Capone’s gang,) were murdered in Chicago, Illinois is definitely one of the most recognizable events associated with this holiday. Along with one of the least romantic.
5. The Reformation Begins (Halloween 1517)
In the opposite end of the year, we find months containing two more major world holidays that are no less filled with world changing events. Without any doubt one of the most important events in human history, considering the current religious divisions in the world, was the Protestant Reformation. On Halloween 1517, Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation by posting his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.
4. The End of the Battle of Britain (Halloween 1940)
Luther may have started a Reformation in Germany (then known as the Holy Roman Empire or the First Reich), but it was under the Third Reich that a different conflict came about. This Third Reich attempted to assert political and military dominance over Europe, but to do so they had to defeat the British. As such, they launched a massive campaign to bomb Britain in submission. On Halloween 1940, during World War II, The Battle of Britain ended, with the United Kingdom preventing a possible German invasion. Had this battle gone the other way, and had Germany defeated Britain, the outcome of World War II, or at least its duration would have been fundamentally altered. As Winston Churchill famously summarized in reference to the Royal Air Force’s triumph: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” We shudder to think of the consequences had Britain’s pilots failed.
3. The Franks Become Catholics (Christmas 496)
As we near the end of the year, we come to the cold days of winter and go across the Channel, back to the continent where, on Christmas Day 496, Clovis I, King of the Franks, was baptized into the Catholic faith at Rheims, by Saint Remigius. This baptism started a tradition of Catholic sovereigns in France that endured for centuries afterwards, only ending with the deposition of Napoleon III in 1870. These kings and emperors ruled as Catholics over territories well beyond the boundaries of the modern Hexagon and, as such, influenced the spread of Catholicism to North America, the Caribbean, and Africa.
2. The First Holy Roman Emperor (Christmas 800)
Clovis may have been the greatest Merovingian Frank, but Charlemagne was by far the greatest Carolingian Frank. The Carolingians not only overthrew the Merovingians; they went on to rule a territory even greater than that of their Dark Ages predecessors. Charlemagne may have started as a Frankish king, yet he fought to also become King of the Lombards and, for the final fourteen years of his reign, revived the imperial title in the West, one not used since the fall of Rome. On Christmas Day 800, the Pope oversaw the Coronation of Charlemagne as the first Holy Roman Emperor in Rome. This title lasted for over a thousand years until Francis II abdicated in 1806 and had a critical influence on European history throughout the Medieval and Renaissance eras.
1. The Christmas Truce (Christmas 1914)
Unfortunately, despite the brief period of European unity in 800, the following centuries have been filled with bloodshed, as the ancestors of the once-unified Frankish empire split into separate countries, including France and Germany and, on its fringe, Britain. These countries have battled it out in some of the world’s most devastating conflicts, the deadliest of which occurred during the twentieth century.
Nevertheless, despite such horrors, even in the midst of these bloodbaths, we can identify moments in which the common soldiers remember their shared heritages, and these moments perhaps give us some hope. Reportedly, during the Franco-Prussian War, a French soldier sang the French version of “Oh Holy Night” to the German forces opposing him. Rather than shoot the singing Frenchman, a German responded by singing a Lutheran hymn. A similar, and more famous, event would occur the next time a major war was fought involving Germany in Europe. On Christmas 1914, during World War I, an event known as the Christmas Truce included German and British troops on the Western Front temporarily participating in a cease fire. Although the war continued for several bloody years afterwards, this truce served as a brief reminder of the common experiences of soldiers that transcended the nationalism that resulted in many of their deaths.
By Dr. Matthew D. Zarzeczny, author of Meteors That Enlighten The Earth