It’s late on Christmas Day. You’ve eaten way too much turkey and chocolate. Drinking booze and eggnog throughout the whole day seemed like a good idea several hours ago, but then so did putting on the itchy jumper that grandma knitted for you, and now you can’t take it off without being rude. Uncle’s been on the sherry, and will not stop talking about his forecast for the price of paper for the coming year. Your kid brother won’t turn the volume down on his annoying new toy. Could it really get any worse, you ask yourself?
Well, actually, it really could. For history has served up some truly dreadful Christmases over the centuries, and no matter how many Brussels Sprouts you’re forced to eat, the events recounted in this list are much worse than whatever awaits you this Christmas. For the 25th of December is, after all, just another day, and natural disasters, fate, violent criminals, and misery-guts world leaders refuse to see it as anything but. So, let’s get some perspective on those horrible new socks. Guaranteed, you will never look at Christmas Eve the same way after reading number one on this list…
20. On Christmas Day 1066, William the Conqueror’s men massacred Londoners by mistake
William the Conqueror spent the Autumn of 1066 killing the unruly inhabitants of his new kingdom, England. He’d taken the country by force, and his claim to the throne was based on his own, uncorroborated claim that King Edward the Confessor had named him as his successor. Verbal contracts like this are often the cause of strife, and unsurprisingly many Anglo-Saxons weren’t convinced that he wasn’t just a big fat liar and a bully. But once he’d removed resistance to his kingship through more brute force, William decided to be formally crowned king on Christmas Day 1066 at Westminster Abbey.
Determined that nothing would ruin his big day, William stationed knights outside the Abbey to beat-up anyone who didn’t look happy enough. When they heard raucous cheers of goodwill from the Norman and Anglo-Saxon nobility watching the ceremony coming from the Abbey, they naturally assumed that an assassination attempt was taking place. But rather than running in to help, they decided that the best thing to do was to set fire to the houses in the surrounding area. The poor Londoners trying to have a quiet Christmas were burned to death, and riots broke out in all the confusion. Whoops.