Last Christmas Day I debunked a great deal of rubbish spouted about the celebration of Christmas. This year I’d like to treat the day as I sometimes treat special birthdays, by reviewing births, deaths, and special events that happened on Christmas Day, in an omnibus post. I will not include events and births I have posted in previous years. Let’s get started.
Most Brits were taught in school that William the Bastard had himself crowned at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066 (top photo from the Bayeux tapestry). They may not have been taught that the Conquest (capital “C”) was not over, by a long shot (or bow, or whatever). They were probably also not taught that William was not the great uniter of the history books, but, rather, the great divider. England had been a nation under the likes of Alfred the Great, but when William came along, England was divided between rich Norman nobility and poor Anglo-Saxon peasants. William made England a province of France, and it would not return to English nationhood until king John, the first king of England to speak English as his first language since Harold Godwinson (loser at Hastings), and the first king since Harold to see England as his prime kingdom (largely because he lost all his Angevin holdings in France). He was born on Christmas Eve.
Lots of other coronations (popular day!!):
800 – The Coronation of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor, in Rome.
1025 – Coronation of Mieszko II Lambert as king of Poland.
1076 – Coronation of Bolesław II the Generous as king of Poland.
1100 – Baldwin of Boulogne is crowned the first King of Jerusalem in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
1130 – Count Roger II of Sicily is crowned the first king of Sicily.
Births (or Baptisms)
You’ll note that Noël is an obvious name for people born on Christmas Day.
1583 Orlando Gibbons, English virginalist, organist and composer. Here’s his Magnificat for the season.
1628 – Noël Coypel, French painter and educator (d. 1707). Here’s his nativity:
1771 – Dorothy Wordsworth, sister of William and poet in her own right (d. 1855)
1810 – L. L. Langstroth, (d. 1895) who discovered the “bee space,” the exact amount of room bees need to move in their hives, and invented the Langstroth hive, which is still in use. It has detachable honeycombs for ease of removing honey.
1870 – Helena Rubinstein, Polish-American businesswoman and philanthropist (d. 1965). Reputedly the first female millionaire in the world through her cosmetics empire.
1878 – Louis Chevrolet, Swiss-American race car driver and businessman, co-founded Chevrolet (d. 1941). Known as “the Daredevil Frenchman.”
1878 – Noël, Countess of Rothes, philanthropist, social leader and famed heroine of the Titanic disaster (d. 1956). She steered her lifeboat away from the sinking Titanic, helped row for 5 hours until they reached a rescue ship, and then took care of steerage passengers on board the rescue ship until they safely landed.
1899 – Humphrey Bogart (d. 1957)
1936 – Princess Alexandra, The Honourable Lady Ogilvy, who is the queen’s first cousin, and the “celebrity” who opened my infant school in Eastbourne when I was in my first term. Her visit was a BIG DEAL, but even bigger was that she actually spoke to me in class when I was painting. The dialogue is in memory, but I’ll leave it there.
Dying on Christmas Day feels a bit to me like dying on your birthday, which is to say, I’d be all right with it, although I might prefer the day after. Actually, dying on your birthday has a certain symmetry to it, whereas dying on Christmas Day seems a bit disappointing, and leaves friends and family with sad memories of Christmas. The following people mostly need no introduction. I’ve tried to give them a Christmas theme.
1946 – W. C. Fields, American actor, comedian, juggler, and screenwriter
1977 – Charlie Chaplin, English actor and director (b. 1889)
1983 – Joan Miró, Spanish painter and sculptor (b. 1893)
2006 – James Brown, American singer-songwriter (b. 1933)
2008 – Eartha Kitt, American singer and actress (b. 1927)
I’ll give you a gallery of my Christmas dinner this year, as I try to do every year in place of a recipe. This year was rather old fashioned English
Appetizer was Norwegian smoked salmon and sausage rolls:
Roast beef with roast potatoes, steamed spinach, Yorkshire pudding, and spicy cream gravy:
First dessert was mince pie with whipped cream:
Second dessert will be Christmas pudding, but it is not dark yet, and I serve it flaming.