December is special for many reasons. In this month we observe different festivals, for example, Bodi Day (Buddhist), Yule (Pagan), Hanukkah (Jewish), Christmas (Christian) and Kwanzaa (African-American). We count down to year-end and then celebrate New Year’s Eve. In the northern hemisphere the first day of winter, the shortest day of the year, occurs on either December 21st or 22nd (the Solstice). South of the equator summer begins that same day and is the longest day of the year. A baker’s dozen facts about December follow:
- The name December comes from the Latin decem for “ten”, as it was the 10th month in the early Roman calendar. When Julius Caesar changed to the Julian calendar in 46 BC, he added January and February at the beginning of the calendar year and made December 31 days long. In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII introduced the now commonly used Gregorian calendar.
- December 15, 1791: the Bill of Rights came into effect and included the first ten amendments to the US constitution. In 1941 President Roosevelt proclaimed December 15th as Bill of Rights Day for people to fly the flag and reflect upon the significance of the amendments (Who can name them? The second: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”)
- December 30, 1803: the USA doubled in size through the Louisiana Purchase, acquiring a territory of 885,000 square m (2292,000 square km) from France at a cost of $15 million.
- Founded and endowed by Alfred Nobel, the Nobel Prizes were first awarded on December 10th, 1901 on the fifth anniversary of his death. The six Prizes, awarded for intellectual achievement, are deemed the most prestigious in the world.
- December 11, 1901: Guglielmo Marconi transmitted the first transatlantic radio signal from Cornwall, England to St. John’s, Newfoundland.
- December 17, 1903: brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first recorded flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft near Kitty Hawk NC, earning the reputation as the founders of modern aviation.
- December 6, 1917: a French munitions ship and a Norwegian steamship carrying relief supplies for the war effort collided in Halifax harbour. Reputedly the worst disaster in Canadian history, the Halifax Explosion killed up to 2000 people, injured 9,000 and levelled two square kilometres of the city.
- December 7, 1941: Japanese bombers launched a surprise aerial attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. The day after, President Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war against Japan, calling December 7 a “date which shall live in infamy.” The attack left 2403 Americans dead, 1178 wounded, and every battleship (9) damaged.
- December 1, 1955: in violation of segregation laws in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to surrender her bus seat to a white passenger, triggering a 381-day bus boycott led by Martin Luther King, Jr.
- December 15, 1964: Canada adopted a new national flag featuring a red maple leaf, a symbol of Canadian identity, on a white background with two red borders.
- December 3, 1967: Christiaan Barnard of South Africa performed the first human heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.
- December 1991 saw the collapse of the USSR: on December 25th Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev announced his resignation, the hammer-and-sickle flag was replaced by the pre-revolutionary red, white, and blue tricolor of Russia and, at midnight on December 31st, the Soviet Union was formally dissolved.
- Why is December 26th called Boxing Day? Ages ago servants who worked on Christmas Day were allowed to visit their families the next day; employers gave them boxes to take home containing gifts, bonuses and, sometimes, leftover food.
Please add your facts about December events in the comments below.
P.S. An additional fact: Glen and I will mark our _ _ th wedding anniversary on December 26.