Earlier in 1826, the academy’s strict superintendent Colonel Sylvanus Thayer had banned the purchase, storage and consumption of alcohol due to concerns about drunkenness among the cadets. However, the new rules were ignored by cadets who sought to continue the annual tradition of drinking homemade eggnog on Christmas Eve.
Late on the 22 December three cadets crossed the Hudson River and bought whiskey from Martin’s Tavern. Having paid the security guard at the academy to ignore their smuggling efforts, they hid the alcohol in one of their rooms in the North Barracks while another cadet successfully obtained another gallon from another local tavern.
The party began at around 10pm on the evening of 24 December in North Barracks room No. 28, followed by another party in room No. 5. Jefferson Davis, who was later elected President of the Confederate States of America, was one of the cadets in attendance.
The party continued without much incident until around 4am, when noise from the increasingly drunken revellers woke teaching officer Captain Ethan Allen Hitchcock who went to investigate and ordered the cadets back to their rooms. Incensed, at least 70 drunken cadets instead launched the infamous riot in which they brandished weapons, broke windows, and assaulted two officers.
Of the rioters, only 19 of them faced disciplinary action. Beginning on 26 January 1827, the trials resulted in guilty verdicts for all the defendants although eight of them were saved from expulsion.
On the 23rd December 1823, the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, more commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas” was published anonymously in the New York Sentinel. It is significant for being the first source to give the names of Santa’s reindeer, as well as establishing the image of the jolly fat Santa that we know today. Reprinted a number of times in subsequent years, the poem became attributed to the academic Clement Clarke Moore who eventually acknowledged authorship in 1844. However, debate over the author continues to this day with Major Henry Livingston, Jr. being other potential writer being put forward most regularly.
Legend says that Moore wrote the poem while on a shopping trip, and read it to his children on Christmas Eve 1822. A year later a copy found its way to the offices of the New York Sentinel who published it along with a message in which the editor expressed “his cordial thanks to whoever had sent him these Christmas verses.”
Moore’s reluctance to be associated with the verse apparently stemmed from his career as a professor of ancient languages, since he didn’t want the poem to undermine his academic credentials. It was his friend, Charles Fenno Hoffman, who first publicly attributed the poem to him in the Christmas 1837 edition of the Pennsylvania Inquirer and Daily Courier.
One interesting aside relates to Santa’s reindeer in the poem. When reading it to children, they’re often surprised to find that Rudolph isn’t mentioned. This is because Rudolph didn’t appear until the story by Robert L. May was published in 1939.
On the 19th December 1843, Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol was published in London by Chapman & Hall. Since first being published it has never been out of print and, despite the first run selling out within 6 days, Dickens was disappointed with the amount of money he made from the book.
A Christmas Carol was written in just six weeks from September 1843. Although released by an established publisher, Dickens was unwilling to take a lump-sum fee for the story and so instead published it at his own expense. However, the high production costs meant that the profits were smaller than he hoped for.
Despite this disappointing financial return for its author, A Christmas Carol is said to be responsible for establishing much of the modern interpretation of the Christmas holiday. Historian Ronald Hutton refers to the book’s theme of ‘social reconciliation’, and views the story as establishing the link between individuals, families and their place within the wider community as well as the importance of charitable giving.
Dickens’ tale is also responsible for introducing key terms into the English language of which the name “Scrooge”, and the phrase “Bah! Humbug!” are the most obvious. However, it is also responsible for popularising the phrase “Merry Christmas”. Although this greeting had been around since the 16th Century, by 1843 the meaning of the word ‘merry’ was changing – originally it simply meant ‘pleasant’, but by the time of Dickens’ book it had begun to mean ‘cheerful’ or ‘jolly’ and it is within this context that Scrooge uses the term extensively at the end of the story.
On the 9th December 1965, American television network CBS first broadcast the animated cartoon A Charlie Brown Christmas. Now a staple of American Christmas television, the cartoon was originally financed by the Coca-Cola Company as a vehicle for Christmas advertising and was created in just six months.
By the mid-1960s, the Peanuts comic strip by American cartoonist Charles M. Schultz had become an international phenomenon. Ideas for an animated special had already been proposed, but it wasn’t until the influential Time magazine featured the Peanuts gang on the cover that sponsorship for the special was secured. Coca-Cola put up the money based on a simple pitch of “winter scenes, a school play, a scene to be read from the Bible, and a sound track combining jazz and traditional music.”
The creators took, at the time, a number of risks with the special. As well as exclusively casting children to voice the characters, Schultz opted for an unconventional jazz music soundtrack and refused to have a laugh track to accompany the animation. Combined with the necessarily simple animation and relatively slow pace, network executives expressed reservations about whether the special was even worthy of being shown.
However, having been completed just ten days before its network premiere the executives didn’t have much choice. They needn’t have worried, with popular and critical responses to the cartoon being universally positive. A Charlie Brown Christmas went on to win both a Peabody Award and the Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Program, but more importantly captured the imaginations of the 16 million people who tuned in to watch it that evening.
On the 24th December 1955, the Colorado Springs’ Continental Air Defense Command first began giving children the current location of Santa as he made his way across the world delivering presents. CONAD was replaced by NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) in 1958, and NORAD Tracks Santa has reported Santa’s location ever since.
The military facility was founded during the Cold War to act as an early warning system against aerial enemy attacks, and to provide Strategic Air Command with the opportunity to retaliate. However, on the 24th December 1955 an advertisement for a Sears store in Colorado Springs encouraged children to call the facility for the chance to speak to Santa Claus. It was, of course, a mistake – the phone number was misprinted and so presumably hundreds of Sears staff sat by silent telephones while military personnel instead starting receiving calls from excited children wanting to speak to Santa.
Colonel Harry Shoup was in charge that night, and received a call on one of the top secret telephone lines that only rang if an imminent attack had been identified. The child on the end of the line must have been terrified as the confused colonel demanded to know who was calling his secret number. However, as more calls came in he instructed his staff to give a “current location” for Santa when children rang the number.
The tradition continued as CONAD was absorbed into the new NORAD organization, with thousands of volunteers manning the phones to provide tracking data to anyone who calls. You can also visit NORAD Tracks Santa on the internet at http://www.noradsanta.org/