Today is Wednesday, Dec. 24, the 358th day of 2014. There are seven days left in the year. This is Christmas Eve.
Today’s Highlights in History:
On Dec. 24, 1914, during World War I, impromptu Christmas truces began to take hold along parts of the Western Front between British and German soldiers who, in some cases, exchanged gifts and even played soccer with each other. Conservationist John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, died in Los Angeles at age 76.
On this date:
In 1524, Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama — who had discovered a sea route around Africa to India — died in Cochin, India.
In 1814, the United States and Britain signed the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812 following ratification by both the British Parliament and the U.S. Senate.
In 1851, fire devastated the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., destroying about 35,000 volumes.
In 1871, Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “Aida” had its world premiere in Cairo, Egypt.
In 1939, Pope Pius XII delivered a Christmas Eve address in which he offered a five-point program for peace and denounced “premeditated aggressions.”
In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe as part of Operation Overlord.
In 1951, Gian Carlo Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” the first opera written specifically for television, was first broadcast by NBC-TV.
In 1968, the Apollo 8 astronauts, orbiting the moon, read passages from the Old Testament Book of Genesis during a Christmas Eve telecast.
In 1974, Cyclone Tracy began battering the Australian city of Darwin, resulting in widespread damage and causing some 65 deaths.
In 1984, actor Peter Lawford, 61, died in Los Angeles.
In 1994, militants hijacked an Air France Airbus A-300 at the Algiers airport; three passengers were slain during the siege before all four hijackers were killed by French commandos in Marseille two days later.
In 1999, five hijackers seized an Indian Airlines jet, forcing the aircraft on a journey across South Asia and into the Middle East. (The 8-day ordeal resulted in the death of one passenger and India’s release of three jailed pro-Kashmir militants in exchange for the rest of the hostages.)
Ten years ago: Bearing gifts of praise and encouragement, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld paid a surprise Christmas Eve visit to U.S. troops in some of the most dangerous areas of Iraq. Afghan President Hamid Karzai swore in a new Cabinet. The international Cassini spacecraft launched a probe on a three-week free-fall toward Saturn’s mysterious moon Titan.
Five years ago: The Senate passed health care legislation, 60-39, in the chamber’s first Christmas Eve vote since 1895. Sean Goldman, a 9-year-old boy at the center of a five-year custody battle on two continents, was finally turned over to his American father, David Goldman, in Brazil. A woman jumped barriers in St. Peter’s Basilica and knocked down Pope Benedict XVI as he was walking down the main aisle to begin Christmas Eve Mass; the pope was unhurt.
One year ago: In Egypt, a car bomb ripped through a security headquarters in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, killing 16 people, almost all policemen. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II granted a posthumous pardon to code-breaker Alan Turing, who was convicted of homosexual behavior in the 1950s. Pope Francis lauded Jesus’ humble beginning as a poor and vulnerable baby as he celebrated his first Christmas Eve Mass as pontiff in St. Peter’s Basilica. Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston was named The Associated Press national player of the year.
Today’s Birthdays: Songwriter-bandleader Dave Bartholomew is 94. Author Mary Higgins Clark is 87. Federal health official Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., is 74. Recording company executive Mike Curb is 70. Rock singer-musician Lemmy (Motorhead) is 69. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., is 68. Actor Grand L. Bush is 59. Actor Clarence Gilyard is 59. Actress Stephanie Hodge is 58. The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, is 57. Rock musician Ian Burden (The Human League) is 57. Actor Anil Kapoor is 55. Actor Wade Williams is 53. Designer Kate Spade is 52. Rock singer Mary Ramsey (10,000 Maniacs) is 51. Actor Mark Valley is 50. Actor Diedrich Bader is 48. Actor Amaury Nolasco is 44. Singer Ricky Martin is 43. Author Stephenie Meyer is 41. “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest is 40. Actor Michael Raymond-James (TV: “Once Upon a Time”) is 37. Rock singer Louis Tomlinson (One Direction) is 23.
Thought for Today: “To perceive Christmas through its wrapping becomes more difficult with every year.” — E.B. White, American author and journalist (1899-1985).

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