5 Historic Christmas Art Photographs

December 24, 2019

Oh it’s that wonderful time of year again - Christmas time, when after all the running around in preparation for it, you can finally sit down with your loved ones, give and receive some presents, and eat till you can’t get up no more. And you wait for Santa Claus, sure.

Of course, those who are not really keen on spending the holiday at home can go out and join the Santa running marathon, for instance (in Finland, or Japan), or join the Christmas carnival in Cuba, of surf their way through the waves in Australia - but only if they’re wearing a Santa Claus hat.

Round the globe, there are many traditions and events going underway every year on December 25th, but perhaps you didn’t know that some important moments in our history also happened on Christmas day. Lucky for us, there also happened to be a photographer at hand, to document and immortalize those crucial moments as priceless testimonies to our society.

Many historic and political things things happened on Christmas day - French conqueror became the Kind of England in 1066, US President Andrew Johnson granted an unconditional amnesty for all who fought for the south in the Civil War in 1868, Japanese emperor Hirohito came to the throne in 1926, and the Soviet Union was formally dissolved.

But in the five Christmas art photographs that follow, we look at how the Holiday spirit marked some of the events that have deeply influenced our present, and our future. Some don’t exactly feature a Christmas tree and none of them portray Santa either, but they nevertheless ooze with a unique sense of unity, tradition, joy, even miracle.

Christmas Truce, 1914

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, a little more than a century ago, German and British soldiers agreed on a series of widespread and unofficial ceasefires during what turned out to be only the early days of World War I.

Somewhere on no man’s land, the soldiers from both sides walked freely and exchanged greetings, food and souvenirs, even sang Christmas Carols together! In some photographic archives, there are even images of them playing entire football matches on the battlefield for the occasion.

In the photograph you see here, there is a Christmas tree keeping soldiers company inside their trench.

The First World War finally ended in 1918.

The First Rockefeller Christmas Tree, 1931

On Christmas Eve 1931, when the American nation mired in the Great Depression, a group of construction workers erected a 20ft (6m) balsam fir tree on the muddy site of what would become the Rockefeller Plaza, one of New York’s monumental sites.

The tree was decorated with strings of cranberries, garlands of paper, gum wrappers, tin cans, even detonator blasting caps.

Two years later, the Rockefeller Center become the official home of the most famous Christmas tree in the world on an annual level, which today represents a multimillion dollar extravaganza that attracts millions of tourists between early November through January 6th.

The tallest Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center was a 100 feet (30 m) spruce erected on November 11, 1999.

Christmas Time in West Berlin, 1963

In summer 1961, the Berliners awoke to find a 40km long barbed wire coiled across the city, dividing West from East and tearing apart entire families. The wire eventually became a concrete wall, and for Germany and its residents, everything changed.

But only two years later, in 1963, West Berliners were allowed to visit the East for one day only, over the eighteen days period between December and January, to celebrate Christmas with their relatives on the other side of the wall after 28 months of being apart.

A total of 700,000 people from the West crossed the “border” for a joyful, as those from the East could only stay on their side. Similar arrangements were made for the following three years, and the wall saw its definite downfall in 1989.

The Journey of Apollo 8

The year 1968 saw the first ever manned spacecraft to leave Earth orbit, reach the Earth's Moon, orbit it and return safely to Earth. In a period marked by political turmoil in the United States and the rest of the world, Apollo 8 seemed like a proper beacon of light.

The mission was the most widely covered event of the year, with the BBC coverage being broadcast on Christmas day in 54 countries in 15 different language. It is estimated that a quarter of the people alive at the time saw the Christmas Eve transmission of the ninth orbit of the Moon, either live or delayed.

During the mission, the crew members also took the first photograph of the Earth that was not made by a satellite, which ended up being part of LIFE magazine’s 100 Photographs That Changed the World.

The Birth of World Wide Web, 1990

It was a merry Christmas Eve in 1990 in Geneva, for a software consultant Tim Berners-Lee and scientist Robert Cailliau, who spent the holiday working at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research - much better known as CERN.

They had a plan for an open computer network which would help them keep track of the research at the physics laboratory they have in the suburbs of the city.

After two years of development, on this joyful day they finally managed to establish the first successful communication between a Web browser and a server - an operation that led to the creation of the Internet as we know it today.

I personally thank them for giving me the opportunity to share this article with our readers today, and for changing the lives of all of us, on a level we probably don’t fully understand yet...

All images used for illustrative purposes only.