6 Historically Odd Christmas Season Miracles

It seems like everybody has an anecdotal Christmas miracle story. My own is the year my brother and I were driving back to Eugene from Salem after celebrating Christmas Eve with my grandparents. It was on that boring hourlong stretch of I-5 that my brother's 1991 Mazda 626 decided it no longer needed a transmission. Long story short; we ended up hitchhiking home with 15 wrapped presents after we waited multiple hours in the bitter cold with a sign that read: "Car broke down, will pay $20 for a ride to Eugene, Merry Christmas."

We finally arrived home in the wee hours of Christmas thanks to a nice family in a GMC Yukon Denali.  It was our own little "Christmas Miracle." Thank God for cell phones now (how did all of history survive without 'em)?

Here's a list of six non-sappy pre-cell phone miracles that happened around the Christmas season that are slowly being forgotten:

6. Jack Johnson defeats Tommy Burns on Boxing Day (Dec. 26th), for the 1908 Heavyweight title. The real miracle here is that Johnson, a black man who was only allowed to fight in colored leagues, was actually given the opportunity to box Burns (who obviously was white). Of course, it had to happen outside of America (in Sydney, Australia), and the television cameras were forced to shut off by the police right as Johnson knocked Burns down with the definitive blow in the 14th round (so as not to upset the sensitive white audiences).  Still, the Heavyweight Title of the World was as big in 1908 as the World Series was in 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, or Olympic Track in 1936 when Jessie Owens shoved racial superiority back in Hitler's face. Johnson lived the celebrity life for that era, but it also came at a very bigoted price: He was imprisoned for a year in 1913 for marrying a white woman. Today we all know Jackie Robinson, but Jack Johnson actually broke the professional sports color barrier 40 years earlier.

The narrator calls Johnson "the scourge of the heavyweight" and after the eleventh
 round says, "there's a general feeling of compassion for the impossible task that Burns has
undertaken (even though Burns was the current champion)." Worth watching from  9:30 onward. 

5. The holiday blockbuster is a Christmas tradition in many households. After the violent unwrapping of gifts, the sinful bounty of stocking stuffer candy, and a gluttonous meal of turkey or ham, many feel the need to cap off the glorious day by lounging in a theater and allowing Hollywood's best and brightest to entertain us with instant classics and Oscar worthy films like Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. Most people don't realize that the movie industry has a long history related to the Christmas season. While Thomas Edison had made many celluloid film shorts and played them through Kinetoscope peep-shows at parlors, fairs, and exhibitions, the first actual "cinema" like movie, Workers Leaving the LumiĆ©re Factory was projected onto a canvas for a paying French audience on Dec. 26, 1895. While it is debatable whether this was the first "film," and the content is less interesting than Edison's Buffalo Bill shorts, its 46 second run time with no flickering was a miracle in early film pioneering. It forced Edison to quickly adapt to "projected" images, and paved the way for the first true narrative, feature length story, The Story of the Kelly Gang, a 60 minute Australian film that debuted on Dec. 26, 1906. Christmas has always been kind to the movie industry.

While much of the film has been lost to age, the shootout scene at 10:38 and the subsequent fire 
(notice the hand dyed red film) and the suicide pact scene at 12:15 are all worth noting.  The Kelly story is quite
fascinating, and can be seen in the 2003 movie Ned Kelly, starring Heath Ledger and Orlando Bloom. 

Even in the 1940s CEOs were so important that they had a paid staff
of "sit-position" carriers.  
4. While it may not constitute a miracle, in 1944, in the height of WWII, Franklin Roosevelt seized control of one of the largest retailers of the time, Montgomery Ward, for being obstinate. In an act that would enrage libertarians today, FDR had the National Guard of Illinois forcibly remove Sewell Avery (chairman of Wards) from his office, and take over the factories in Chicago, until the Montgomery Ward Company would agree to three different collective bargaining agreements with employees made law by the National War Labor Board (which ironically also stymied the rights of workers to strike). Mr. Sewell, a staunch capitalist, refused to comply with any government regulations, even during those desperate war years, and threatened to cut production of all goods, including war productions if any "New Dealer" meddled with his business. Also ironic, is that Mr. Sewell (once reinstated) directed Wards in a very conservative approach in the post-war years, and his refusal to match Sears' generous benefits to employees and failure to spend any money for expansion, lead to Sears' doubling of its pre-war market and leaving Wards as a distant competitor (and forcing Sewell to resign in 1954).

Historically, this image is more important than the painting: Washington
Throws an Ice Chunk at Benedict Arnold.
3. I hesitate to call an act of war a miracle, but considering the magnitude of General George Washington's victory in Trenton, NJ. on Christmas night of 1776, and how close to capitulation the Continental Army was, it was and is an American miracle. Starved, nearly frozen, tired, and defeated from three consecutive months of lost battles; Washington's forces were in no shape to fight that Christmas Night.  But knowing he would lose 2/3 of his army (as their conscriptions expired) in the new year, Washington took the words just penned by Thomas Paine, and coached his troops like it was halftime of the biggest game of their lives: "These are the times that try men's souls...Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph!"

So they boarded ships, crossed the mostly frozen Delaware River, marched nine miles to Trenton and surprised the Hessian soldiers (German mercenaries hired by the British) stationed there, who were not battle ready because they thought Washington's forces were in no shape for an offensive battle and because it was the morning after Christmas (some historians think the Hessians were hung-over from rampant Christmas celebrations). Not only did Washington's army win, they captured almost 900 Hessians, killed/mortally injured another 100, and only lost two men from their own army. It greatly inspired the colonies, and enlistment soared afterward. It solidified Washington as a General, and partially inspired the French to join us in our little squabble.

2. The word miracle usually implies that a divine force, a god, or God, is so imparted that He/She must intervene. I don't think God cares about sports, as they are trivial games with very little implication to real life. However, sometimes there is a victory by a team of such great proportion to the odds, that a divinity must have interfered.

Youngsters: This is called a magazine. Sometimes the
cover folded out to display a big topic. Inside were many
stories and more pictures with associated words by people
called journalists.  
In 1982, college basketball was filled with the stars that would later dominate the NBA. The Virginia Cavaliers had Ralph Sampson, the most highly decorated college basketball player of all time, and future #1 draft pick of the Houston Rockets. In 1981 they had advanced to the Final Four. And by the time they showed up in Hawaii to play Chaminade, an NAIA team from Honolulu with less than 900 enrolled in the entire school, UVA was 8-0, ranked #1, with two early wins over teams that later advanced to the Final Four of 1982: Georgetown (with Patrick Ewing) and the Houston Cougars (with the Phi-Slama-Jamma duo of Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon).

The turnout for the game was so big (because of Sampson's fame) that Chaminade had to rent out a high school basketball court to seat the 3500 attendees. The Chaminade coach hoped his team would stay within 20 as a moral victory, considering they had already lost that year to powerhouse Wayland Baptist University. But by halftime they were tied 43-43. The rest is basketball lore.  The North Carolina Tar Heels eventually won the NCAA tournament that year with Michael Jordan and James Worthy, but 1982 was the year that 10 kids from a nobody school out in Hawaii knocked off the #1 ranked team in the nation and proved that there are no guaranteed wins. Sometimes the little guy does come out on top.

Look how young Tom Brokaw is!  

1. In the long history of pointless wars, none pails in stupidity and uselessness as the Great War, or World War I. After five months of intensified and deadly fighting in 1914, which saw the horror of the machine gun, the accuracy of bombardment, the use of planes as spies, the inconceivable use of poison gases, and the necessity of tunnels, trenches and barbed wire; instead of the traditional methods of calvary, cannons, and brave bayonet charges...any idea of past pretenses was widely desired by both the Germans and Allied forces. 

So as Christmas neared, even as the bodies, carnage, and muddy filth that narrowly separated the forces in No-Man's-Land grew, the soldiers on both sides began displaying signs of Holiday Cheer.  The Germans put up a large tree decorated with candles and trinkets above their trench in Ypres, Belgium on Christmas Eve. The Scottish forces began playing carols on bagpipes, and the English wrote signs in German saying, "Merry Christmas."  Eventually a few Germans ventured across enemy lines unarmed bearing gifts such as Schnapps liquor. Somehow, without the use of text messaging, twitter, or mass media, the news spread along the hundreds of miles of front, and many battlefields instantly transformed to soccer fields and fraternity squares between waring sides. Bodies were buried with funeral rights, pictures of loved ones were shown, cigarettes exchanged, songs sung, and promises of peace or future cease-fires were made.  

Sadly, when generals and commanders of all sides heard of this fraternization, whole armies were transferred, sent into suicide missions, or court-marshalled for treason: Still, the miracle of Christmas day, 1914, proves that no matter how inhumane the task the ruling class asks, even the basest human being can show humanity.  (Not coincidentally, Adolf Hitler, an Austrian trench soldier at the time was adamantly against this show of brotherly love).

From the fantastic war film Joyeux Noel 

Miracles can be divinely imparted or deliberately crafted by humans  like this; but either way, let us never forget the blessings we have during this Christmas season.   


  1. I like your spin on Christmas themed posts. It's better than another cookie recipe. Good work as always Chris!

    1. Oh! Cookie recipes, that's a great blog idea! Thanks, I can fill like five blogs with that!

  2. I particularly like number 1, I saw that movie and that was a remarkable thing to happen during wartime. Good list, but you forgot George Bailey's miracle in Bedford Falls.

    1. What is, It's a Wonderful Life. Were we playing Jeopardy?

  3. You also forgot about another little Christmas miracle: me. My birthday is Christmas Eve. Yes, I like to think of myself as a Christmas miracle. ;)

    1. So is my Brother-in-Law (12/24). All those presents under the tree are for you guys.