December’s History

December comes from the Latin word decem, meaning ten, because just like September, October, and November, the months were switched around when Julius Caesar added in January and February. So, despite its Latin root, December is the twelfth and final month of the year. Anglo-Saxons called it Ġēolamonaþ, meaning Yule month, because of the holiday “Yule” season. Source

In 164 B.C., roughly, the first Hanukkah celebration was held by the Second Temple in light of a recent victory driving the Syrians out of Jerusalem. The legend says that they lit a menorah as part of the celebrations, and though the candles only had enough oil to be lit for one day, miraculously it didn’t burn out for eight nights. From then on, it was tradition to keep a menorah lit for eight days, generally somewhere around the winter solstice. This is the most common version of the story, though the real truth of what happened is under debate. Some say there was a civil war between traditional Jewish religion and those who had assimilated into Greek and Syrian culture, with the traditionalists winning and celebrating similarly, and still others say that it had been a festival that happened earlier in the year that was delayed because of war. Source

In the year 1, it is said that Jesus was born, supposedly on December 25th. However, there is heavy debate on the year and even the month, anywhere between 7 B.C. and 2 B.C. Most would agree that he was not born in either 1 B.C. or 1 A.D. Nevertheless, every year his birthday is celebrated on December 25th, as the holiday called Christmas. The Roman Catholic church may have chosen this date because of its proximity to the winter solstice, along with it being the same time as a pagan festival honoring the Roman god Saturn. It was declared a set holiday, by the Roman Catholic Church, in the year 336 A.D. Source

In 1773, American Colonists instigated an act of rebellion that was later known as the Boston Tea Party. The British had been imposing higher and higher taxes on the colonists, and as one of the most taxed items was tea, the colonists chose to use that in their act of defiance. Samuel Adams, and the group he created called the Sons of Liberty, dressed as Mohawk Native Americans and threw 342 containers of tea off a ship into the harbor. Source

In 1791, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died at the young age of 35. He had started performing music at the age of six, and at the age of eight he started composing, remembered most for “Requiem Mass in D Minor,” “Symphony No. 36” in C, “Don Giovanni” and “Le Nozze di Figaro.” He died on December 5th, 1791, due to a rapidly worsening sickness. Due to the suddenness of the illness, many suspected that he had been poisoned, but there has never been any evidence of this. Source

In 1865, slavery was officially abolished as the 13th Amendment was ratified. Two years earlier Abraham Lincoln had enacted his Emancipation Proclamation, in which nearly three million slaves were declared free. However, it wasn’t until December 6th, 1865, when the amendment was added to the constitution and turned into official law. The only exception to slavery is in the case of prison sentences and punishments, in which slavery is technically legal. Source

In 1890, in what is now South Dakota, the U.S. 7th Cavalry were in the process of disarming and neutralizing Native American tribes in order to more easily take their land. About 500 troops arrived to the Lakota tribe of about 350 people, and when the tribe tried to resist, the Wounded Knee Massacre took place. Soldiers killed upwards of 150 native men, women, and children, and many more would later die of injuries. 31 soldiers ended up dying as well, while about 20 of the soldiers were given the Medal of Honor for this massacre. Source

In 1916, Russian Mystic and healer Grigori Rasputin was assassinated. He had been influencing the Romanov dynasty for his later life, and had specifically worked as an attendant to the Czar’s son, who had hemophilia. The people had begun to work to dismantle the dynasty, and so they attempted to assassinate Rasputin. Conspirators got him to a private home, and poisoned him, but Rasputin did not die. So they shot him, and he still did not die. On the next day, December 30th, they tied him up and threw him into the river, where he finally died. Source

In 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. Seen as the start of the Civil Rights Movement, after her arrest for civil disobedience on December 1st, a boycott of the bus system began in Montgomery. Because many of the bus’s regular passengers were African American, when most stopped riding the bus, they made less money and had a much more difficult time operating. After a year of the boycott, the city relented and passed a law saying that bus segregation was unconstitutional. Source

In 1966, Maulana Karenga, a professor in Los Angeles, established the holiday of Kwanzaa. This was the first pan-African holiday to be celebrated, and now it is celebrated mainly by African Americans, from December 26th to January 1st. It celebrates the unity of family and harvest, and is named after the Swahili word “first fruit.” Source

In 1980, John Lennon was shot and killed by Mark David Chapman outside of his apartment in New York City. Chapman fired five shots, four of which hit Lennon and would have all been fatal on their own. Lennon was quickly brought to the hospital, but was pronounced dead on arrival. Chapman stayed on the scene and let himself be arrested without a struggle. His motives have not been revealed. Source