The month of December, for most people, means the end of the calendar year, the start of shorter days and colder nights, and perhaps most importantly, Christmas. Even for people like me who don't celebrate Christmas, it's impossible to live in the Western world and miss the glittering lights, festive trees, and Santa Clauses rounding every corner of the city. Still, we know that other important things happen around the world during this time. From UFO sightings and lunar orbits to historic moments of wartime, the "most wonderful time of the year" has seen it all. Get the facts on 10 famous (and sometimes weird) historical events that fell on Christmas Eve.
1. 1814: The Treaty of Ghent ends the War of 1812
On Dec. 24, 1814, the United States and Great Britain sat down to sign the treaty which would end the War of 1812 in a draw, restoring relations between the two countries. However, due to the lack of telecommunication at that time, it took weeks for news of the negotiations to reach the U.S., and the treaty itself didn't come into effect until February, when the U.S. Senate ratified it.
2. 1851: Library of Congress Burns
Approximately two-thirds of the Library of Congress' 55,000 volumes were burned in a fire that ravaged the library in Washington, D.C. Most of Thomas Jefferson's personal library, sold to the institution in 1815, was included in the loss.
3. 1865: Ku Klux Klan Forms
A group of Confederate veterans got together in Pulaski, Tennesse, to form a secret society: the Ku Klux Klan. The organization quickly went from being a secret social fraternity to a paramilitary group, with the goal of reversing the federal government's progressive policies — especially those that increased the rights of the African-American population.
4. 1914: World War I Christmas Truce
In a surprising manifestation of the Christmas spirit, scores of German, British, and French troops laid down their arms and initiated a holiday ceasefire on the western front. The soldiers shared cigarettes and whiskey, and some even exchanged presents with men they had been at war with just hours earlier.
5. 1951: The Kingdom of Libya Gains Its Independence
After World War II and Italy's defeat, the question of what to do with Libya — which fell to the Italians in 1911 — arose. The British thought about dividing the country into three spheres of influence, each controlled by the British, the Italians, and the French. Arab nationalists objected, however, and the UN instead decided to create an independent state of Libya.
6. 1954: Laos Gains Its Independence
Libya wasn't the only country to gain its independence on Christmas Eve; just a few years later, Laos gained its independence from France. In 1893, France gained control of the region, making it a French protectorate, and France granted independence to Laos during the Geneva Conference of 1954.
7. 1968: Apollo 8 Orbits the Moon
Astronauts Frank Borman, James A. Lovell Jr., and William A. Anders orbited the moon during the Apollo 8 mission, becoming the first humans to do so. They performed 10 orbits, and the live TV broadcast became one of the most-watched programs in history.
8. 1979: Soviets Invade Afghanistan
Although the U.S. is the most recent country to have put boots on the ground in Afghanistan, in 1979, under the pretext of upholding the Soviet-Afghan Treaty, the Soviets invaded the country. The impact of the invasion was profound, as the country subsequently became a breeding ground for terrorism.
9. 1980: The Rendlesham Forest Incident
Witnesses first reported sightings of unexplained lights and the alleged landing of an aircraft in Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk, England. According to dozens of eyewitnesses, there were a number of unexplained events that took place over the course of three days, making it the most famous UFO event in Britain.
10. 2009: U.S. Senate Passes the Health Care Reform Bill
The Senate passed a historic $871 billion health care reform bill in a 60-39, party-line vote after months of heated debate. The reform, arguably President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority, is the biggest and most dramatic of its kind and is expected to extend insurance coverage to an additional 30 million Americans.