Everyone knows Christmas Day is all about tearing open presents, spending time with loved ones, gorging on lots of good food and celebrating the holiday spirit in general. Even though most of us have got the holiday thing down by now, some folks out there might not be aware of some of the unusual and history-making events marking Christmas Day and Christmas Eve in the past.

A few of these notable episodes tie into the holidays, while others have nothing to do with Christmas at all. So set the eggnog and gingerbread cookies aside for a moment, and take a look back with us at some of the oddest and most important historical events that have occurred on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Christmas Day, 1990, The Internet Gets Its First Test Run

Internet Launch Date
Allison Joyce, Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine that the internet hasn’t been around since the beginning of time, but it hasn’t. The internet actually got its first test run in 1990, on Christmas Day. It was a special moment, indeed, when info.cern.ch, the planet’s first web server, was up and running.

It makes sense that the technology wizards working at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) were some of the men and women behind the creation of this modern marvel (a special thanks goes out to Tim Berners-Lee), even though most of us now take the internet for granted.

Washington Crosses the Delaware River in 1776

Washington Crosses Delaware
Emanuel Leutze (Public Domain), Wiki Commons

General George Washington crossed the Delaware River during the evening of December 25th, 1776. Every schoolboy and schoolgirl around probably knows why he made his famous Revolutionary War crossing when he did. Washington wanted to catch the Hessian mercenaries (employed by the British military) by surprise, in the midst of their holiday celebrations. He did.

The general crushed the enemy and captured plenty of arms and prisoners at the same time. Washington and his men won an outstanding Christmas victory, which went down in the American history books.

WWI Christmas Truce Soccer Games

World War II
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

One of the most amazing and bizarre things to happen on Christmas Day came amidst the blood and carnage of the trench warfare so common to the battlefields of WWI. For several days, during the holiday celebrations, temporary ceasefires broke out between the British and German forces serving along the Western Front.

Even though these men had been slaughtering each other only days, if not hours prior, some of them ventured across enemy lines and brought Christmas gifts with them. Groups of soldiers even sang carols with their enemies and played a few pickup games of soccer. War can often be brutal and strange, yet somehow peppered with acts of kindness.

USSR Invades Afghanistan in 1979

Afghan Guerrillas
Peter Jouvenal, Getty Images

Before the United States ever put forces on the ground in Afghanistan (America’s longest war), the Soviet Union fought a war in the country first. On December 24th and 25th, 1979, the USSR began its deployment of military hardware and personnel into the volatile region. The Russians and their allies chose this time of year to enter the country because the rest of the world was busy celebrating Christmas, which delayed the diplomatic responses of the Western powers to the military incursion.

Isaac Newton Was Born on Christmas Day

Sir Godfrey Kneller (Public Domain), Getty Images
Sir Godfrey Kneller (Public Domain), Getty Images

Sir Isaac Newton, the brilliant English scientist who first identified what gravity actually was, was born on Christmas Day in 1642 (according to the calendar being used at the time). In addition to his famous “discovery” of gravitational forces, he was also a pioneering mathematician and researcher in the field of optics. His contributions to humanity through the sciences and philosophy can’t be overstated. The birth of this amazing man could even be considered a Christmas gift to mankind. He was that important.

Charlie Chaplin Passes Away

Charlie Chaplin, one of the most famous comedic actors to have ever lived, died in 1977 on Christmas Day. The beloved film icon passed away in his sleep at the age of 88.

Charlie was a pioneering actor and director in the era of silent film. He was known for classic cinema gems like 'Kid Auto Races At Venice' (1914), 'The Tramp' (1915), 'The Great Dictator' (1940) and many others. Chaplin was a physical comedy genius, who at the height of his fame, was loved all over the world.

Apollo 8 Reaches the Moon’s Orbit

On Christmas Eve, 1968, the American manned space mission, Apollo 8, reached the moon’s orbit. Apollo 8 was the first piloted spacecraft of any kind to break free from the Earth’s orbit and then circle around another celestial body. In honor of the historic event, the astronauts aboard the ship sent out a special live Christmas Eve broadcast, complete with images of the Earth and the moon, along with readings from the book of Genesis.

Mikhail Gorbachev Resigns as Soviet President

Long before al-Qaeda was ever on the bad guy radar, the Soviet Union (now broken up into Russia and other republics) was considered America’s most formidable enemy. That all changed back in the late 1980s, with the open policy of Glasnost.

Glasnost led to more freedom, and the eventual disintegration of the Soviet Union. With the resignation of Mikhail Gorbachev, president of the USSR and the chief architect of Glasnost, the trend became irreversible. Mikhail quit his post on December 25th, 1991. His political legacy changed the balance of world power forever.

The Song 'Silent Night' Is First Performed in Public

'Silent Night' is a traditional holiday carol that has been sung during the Yuletide season for close to 200 years now. It’s a hauntingly beautiful song, evocative of the deeper meanings beneath modern-day Christmas consumerism.

The carol, known as 'Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht' in German, was first performed in the Austrian village of Oberndorf on Christmas Eve in 1818, at a Midnight Mass in the church of Saint Nicholas. From that special moment on, this lovely carol was engraved into the soul of Christmas.

President Andrew Johnson Pardons All Confederate Soldiers

Library of Congress (Public Domain), Wiki Commons

The American Civil War was a bloody affair. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians lost their lives in this epic struggle. When peace finally came, there was a lot of debate about wartime reparations, rebuilding the South, and what should be done with the Confederate soldiers.

After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, President Andrew Johnson decided to pardon most of the Confederate soldiers who applied for amnesty. Toward the end of his term, the president went even further. On Dec. 25, 1868, he pardoned every single Confederate military participant, thus helping heal a deeply wounded nation.

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