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Saturday, 25 December, 1999, 10:58 GMT
On this day in history

Nicolae Ceausescu executed in 1989

Christmas Day is supposed to be a time of peace and goodwill, when feasting and merriment replace the toil of normal life. However, 25 December has witnessed its fair share of momentous events over the years.

As regular as clockwork, of course, there will be a story such as "Pope calls for world peace" or "Pontiff addresses crowd in 17 languages".

But there is scope for the unpredictable. News of a revolution or political scandal, for example, is often just the thing to take the mind off family squabbles and the smell of sprouts.

The Pope makes his traditional address
Yuletide news can also put the stresses of celebrating Christmas into perspective.

Being couped up with your family for at least a day - with the refuge of the pub or the shops barred - can often lead to an advanced case of cabin fever.

But save a thought for the Pilgrim Fathers - and presumably Pilgrim Mothers and Children. They arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts, on Christmas Day after roughly four months on the Mayflower.

The 102 passengers crammed on to the creaky 90-foot ship, had endured rough seas on their Atlantic crossing without even the distraction of a Who Wants to be a Millionaire? boardgame.

Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959
Within minutes of relatives arriving on Christmas morning it can feel as if your home has been invaded. Those considering a brief stroll as a way to momentarily escape this throng should reflect on the plight of the Dalai Lama.

Following the Chinese invasion of Tibet, the holy man chose Christmas Day 1959 to flee the country. Almost half a century on, he has still not been able to return home.

On the same day in 1950, the Stone of Scone, aka the Stone of Destiny, was stolen from beneath the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey and taken to Scotland. By legend the same stone Jacob had used as a pillow when he dreamt about his ladder, it had been in London since 1296. It was returned to London, but is now back in Scotland.

Countless rulers have seen the day as the perfect backdrop to a grand assertion of their power.

William the Conquerer claimed the throne of England on Christmas Day 1066, crowning a bumper year for the Norman invader.

Charlemagne, King of the Franks, also selected 25 December for his coronation as the first Holy Roman Emperor.

Despite not being holy, Roman nor an emperor, the ninth century ruler set about reforming the law, commerce and education.

Mikhail Gorbachev announced his retirement from public life on this day.

After his own "annus horribilius", the battered Soviet leader used a broadcast on Christmas Day in 1991 to tender his resignation to the people and with it pull the shutters down on the USSR.

Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were famously executed by firing squad 10 years ago today following a popular uprising against the regime they ran.

Dean Martin, died Christmas Day 1995
Some of the world's great drinkers have cashed their chips on 25 December.

Cranky comedian WC Fields and crooning Rat Packer Dean Martin both went to the great saloon in the sky with the wrapping paper barely off their presents.

With wars, natural disasters and politics being no respectors of the holiday season, Christmas Day has seen it all - except perhaps the birth of Christ.

Researchers now suggest that Jesus, unlike Humphrey Bogart, Sir Issac Newton and... er Sissy Spacek, was born in spring, rather than in the bleak midwinter.

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