Historian NORMAN FERGUSON looks back over the centuries and finds momentous events which happened on the 12 Days of Christmas and New Year

Christmas Eve


‘Silent Night’ is performed for the first time at a chapel near Salzburg, Austria. The song is co-written by the local priest. It becomes a well-loved Christmas carol.


In Edinburgh, the trial begins of William Burke. He is convicted of three murders, the victims of which were sold to the city’s medical school for dissection. Burke has a bleak start to the New Year. He is hung in January.


The first air raid on Britain during the First World War takes place when a German aircraft drops a bomb on Dover. It explodes in a garden, and causes only one injury - to a gardener blown out of the tree he was pruning.


Apollo 8 reaches the moon. The three astronauts make a TV broadcast which includes a reading from Genesis as they wish the watching millions a happy Christmas.

Christmas Day


Along the Western Front sporadic periods of peace break out. Opposing troops exchange gifts and play football. A British officer writes: "All this talk of hate, all this fury at each other that has raged, is quelled and stayed by the magic of Christmas."


King George V makes the first royal Christmas broadcast. The king's speech begins: "Through one of the marvels of modern science, I am enabled this Christmas Day to speak to all my peoples throughout the Empire."


The Stone of Destiny is taken from Westminster Abbey in London. Four students bring it north of the border in what one London newspaper describes as a “coarse and vulgar” crime.

Boxing Day


In York, King Alexander III is married to Princess Margaret, daughter of the English king Henry III. Alexander is 10 years of age, his bride is 11.


A severe storm hits Glasgow with winds of 93mph recorded. A large part of St Stephen’s Church’s spire in Bath Street is sent crashing down on to the church’s roof.


A tsunami leads to 200,000 deaths. Caused by an earthquake off the coast of northern Sumatra, the waves travel at almost 500 mph and reach heights of 15 metres. It remains one of the world’s worst modern natural disasters.

December 27


HMS Beagle leaves on a five-year-long voyage. On board is a young man who wishes to see the world before becoming a parson. Charles Darwin’s studies lead him to write a ground-breaking book: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.


In Birmingham, Charles Dickens makes the first public reading of A Christmas Carol. His tale of a curmudgeonly man who refuses to acknowledge Christmas remains a classic tale.


A new play by Kirriemuir’s JM Barrie debuts on the London stage. Peter Pan tells of a boy who never wants to grow up.


‘The Tartan Pimpernel’ dies. The Reverend Donald Caskie had helped Allied soldiers and airmen escape from Nazi-occupied France during World War Two.

December 28


The notorious Rob Roy MacGregor dies. Known for cattle rustling, he also took part in the 1689 and 1715 Jacobite uprisings. He was eventually pardoned by King George I and lived out his life in Balquhidder.


The Tay Rail Bridge collapses during a storm. Seventy five people are killed when the Edinburgh to Dundee train falls into the River Tay. The bridge, which was the longest in the world at the time, had been open less than two years.


In Paris, the first-ever commercial motion picture screening takes place. Ten short films are shown by the Lumiere brothers.

December 29


Thomas a Becket is killed in Canterbury Cathedral. Knights of the English king Henry II had understood the king’s remark “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” to mean the Archbishop should be executed.


The Equal Pay and Sex Discrimination Acts come into force in Britain to make discriminatory practices towards women illegal.


Glasgow’s lowest-ever temperature is recorded, at -20C. The maximum temperature during the day is -12C.

December 30


In Aberdeen, the Kirk Session charge some members of the parish with playing, dancing and singing ‘filthy carols’.


Rasputin is murdered. The ‘Mad Monk’ is poisoned, shot and thrown into a river before finally succumbing.


A petition is delivered, addressed to Queen Victoria, calling for British public houses to be closed on Sundays. It contains over a milllion women’s signatures.



Seventy children are killed in the Glen Cinema in Paisley. A panic ensues after fire starts in the projection room. Some of the children are unable to escape through locked doors.


Revellers gather in George Square to bring in the New Year for the first time, rather than at Glasgow Cross. Anti-aircraft searchlights are used for illuminating the City Chambers.


The Window Tax is introduced in England. Many householders brick up their properties’ windows to avoid paying. It is later adopted in Scotland.

January 1

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Scotland recognises 1st January as being the start of the New Year, as opposed to 25th of March.


Britain joins the European Economic Community. Membership of the ‘Common Market’ is intended to increase trading opportunities.


The first commercial mobile phone call in Britain is made. The Vodafone chairman’s son phones his dad just after midnight.


Serial killer Fred West is found dead in his cell. He had been charged with 12 murders, including that of his own daughter. His wife Rose was later found guilty of 10 murders.

January 2


In Utah, USA, Brigham Young is placed under house arrest. The leader of the Church of the Latter Day Saints faces charges of “lascivious cohabitation”, ie, bigamy. It is claimed he married 55 women and had 56 children.


The Old Firm game finishes 1-1 and the 75,000-strong crowd are making their way out when a crush occurs at one of the stairwells. Sixty-six fans die with many more injured. The youngest fatality is only eight years old.


Sid Vicious goes on trial for the murder of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. It is thought the Sex Pistols bassist stabbed her with a knife. He takes his own life a month later.

January 3


Jacobite forces under the Young Pretender, Charles Edward Stuart, leave Glasgow, where they have spent time after retreating northwards from Derby. A witness recalled that Bonnie Prince Charlie looked pale and dejected.


In London’s East End a gun battle between Latvian anarchists and soldiers and policemen sees two of the anarchists killed. The Sidney Street Siege involves Home Secretary Winston Churchill who is ridiculed for directing matters on the scene.


Lord Haw-Haw is hung. William Joyce had broadcast propaganda messages from Nazi Germany throughout the Second World War until being captured in 1945. He was found guilty of High Treason and executed at Wandsworth Prison.

January 4


Glasgow is authorised by King William and Queen Mary to elect its own magistrates, provost, baillies and other officers within the burgh, in similar fashion to Edinburgh.


Donald Campbell is killed while attempting to break his own water speed record. At Coniston Water in the Lake District his Bluebird craft lifts off and somersaults. He is killed immediately.


The Beatles get together for the last time in the studio. Overdubs are recorded for their Let It Be album.


Norman Ferguson is the author of The Glasgow Book of Days, published in January 2013. It contains a quirky, eccentric, amusing or important event or fact from different periods of history, many of which had a major impact on the religious and political history of Scotland as a whole.