William Kelleher, Junior High Staff Writer

1776: The US Army Crosses The Delaware River During the Revolutionary War

Desperate to strike a decisive victory, on Christmas Day General George Washington led 2,400 troops on a daring nighttime crossing of the icy Delaware River. Stealing into New Jersey, on December 26 the Continental forces launched a surprise attack on Trenton, which was held by a force of German soldiers known as Hessians. The Hessians were defeated and the US went to capture Princeton and succeeded.

1814: The Treaty of Ghent ends the War of 1812.

On December 24, 1814, while many in the western world celebrated Christmas Eve, the United States and Great Britain sat down to sign a famous peace agreement which ended the War of 1812. Negotiations had begun in Ghent, Belgium, earlier in  August, the same month that British forces burned the White House in Washington. After more than four months of debate, the American and British delegates agreed to a settlement that essentially ended the war as a draw. 

1868: President Andrew Johnson issues a final pardon to Confederate soldiers.

At the tail end of his term as president, Andrew Johnson gave a handful of former Confederate rebels a famous Christmas present. By way of Proclamation 179, on December 25, 1868, Johnson issued amnesty to “all and every person” who had fought against the United States during the Civil War. Many people didn’t approve.

1914: The World War I Christmas Truce is reached.

The year 1914 saw the Christmas spirit manifest itself in the most unlikely of places, a World War I battlefield. Starting on the evening of December 24, scores of German, British and French troops in Belgium laid down their arms and initiated a spontaneous holiday ceasefire. The truce was reportedly instigated by the Germans, who decorated their trenches with Christmas trees and candles and began singing carols like “Silent Night.” British troops responded with their own rendition of “The First Noel,” and the weary combatants eventually ventured into “no man’s land”—the treacherous, bombed-out space that separated the trenches—to greet one another and shake hands. They exchanged cigarettes and cigars, and started to play a pickup soccer match.