1066: William the Conqueror crowned King of England. The leader of the Norman invaders took the throne in Westminster Abbey. Ever since, no one word has conveyed the idea of strength quite like “Norman.”
1977: Charlie Chaplin dies. In the 1920s, the actor-director had been so popular an entertainer that even imitation Little Tramps like Billy West achieved success. After Chaplin’s Christmas Day death, at age 88, he made headlines about two months later when grave robbers stole his casket and demanded ransom for its return.
1868: Pardoning Confederate soldiers. Three years after the Civil War ended, Lincoln’s vice president and Oval Office successor Andrew Johnson gave a blanket pardon to anyone who had fought for the Stars and Bars.
1899: Humphrey Bogart born. Imagine how confused his parents must have been when li’l Humphrey emerged from the birth canal exclaiming, “Can the oohing and aahing, will ya? What are you, a buncha saps?
1989: Ceausescu executed. Amid the largely bloodless revolutions of Eastern European states freeing themselves from Communist rule in 1989, one gory exception was the hasty Christmas Day court-martial, conviction and execution of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena. On his way to the execution, Ceausescu sang the Communist anthem “The Internationale.”
336: Christmas first celebrated. The Romans marked the birth of Jesus Christ on this day in what is thought to be the first Christmas celebration, after Emperor Constantine I had declared Christianity the preferred religion of the empire. Up to that point, celebrating birthdays was less common than observing the day of baptism. Eastern Christians continued to observe Jan. 6 as Christmas.
1989: Billy Martin dies. The glory-days second baseman for the New York Yankees, who went on to manage the team in five separate stints, died as a passenger in an automobile accident near his farm outside Binghamton, NY.
1990: Test-driving the quasi-Internet. The first Web page, on the first Web server, using the first Web browser, got its first hit when British software consultant Tim Berners-Lee (right) tried out his new system for linking computers. Berners-Lee spent 1991 flying around the world trying to convince people to link to Web browsers.
1962: “To Kill a Mockingbird” released. The beloved Gregory Peck drama is among dozens of famous movies released on Christmas Day. Among them: “Catch Me if You Can,” “Les Misérables,” “The Sting” and “The Godfather: Part III.”
1991: Gorbachev quits. On this day, Gorby stepped down, the Russian flag replaced the hammer and sickle over the Kremlin, and the USSR was no more.
1995: Dean Martin dies. Rat Packer, singer, comedian, actor and host of the ring-a-ding Dean Martin Celebrity Roast, Martin died at 78 after battling lung cancer and emphysema.
1776: Washington crosses the Delaware. Starting at about 6 p.m. on Christmas Night and lasting until 3 the next morning, the general led 2,400 bedraggled troops and cannons across the river from Pennsylvania at McConkey’s Ferry, beginning a weeklong series of attacks that would culminate in thrilling victories in Trenton and Princeton in the New Year.
1950: Karl Rove born. Focus-group research told him it was an astute move to enter the world on Christmas.