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America’s Rowdy Christmas History

The Eggnog Riot, crossing the Delaware, and the White House in flames

December 2023

Script

Most people tune out the news on Christmas.

But, historically speaking, it’s one of the newsiest days of the year.

In 1776, George Washington used Christmas as cover for a sneak attack.i

Washington led thousands of men across the icy Delaware River, and defeated an enemy force that had partied a bit too hard the night beforeii (although more than half of his troops didn’t arrive in time for the fight).

On Christmas Eve in 1929, Herbert Hoover was the president making news, because the White House nearly burned down while he was hosting a Christmas party.iii

And the Hoover Administration had to ask Congress for money for repairs, because the White House wasn’t insured.

Perhaps America’s strangest bit of Christmas history was … the Eggnog Riot.

(Yes, that’s really what it was called.)

In 1826, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point had just been made a dry campus.

But a group of cadets smuggled in nearly four gallons of whiskey for a Christmas party.

The celebration got so out of hand that they nearly destroyed their barracks.iv

They also threatened the officers who caught them with swords, pistols, and bayonets — which doesn’t go down well at West Point.

While only 19 cadets were kicked out, more than 1/3 of the student body faced expulsion.

Not exactly a “Silent Night.”

 

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

  1. Washington’s famous midnight crossing of the Delaware River is just one of several newsworthy events that took place on Christmas.
  2. In 1929, the Oval Office was nearly destroyed by a fire on Christmas Eve.
  3. Rowdy West Point cadets got so drunk on contraband eggnog in 1826 that they caused a riot and tore the campus apart.

Source(s)

  1. "George Washington Crosses the Delaware" — History
  2. Ibid.
  3. "The Christmas Eve West Wing Fire of 1929" (Joel D. Treese, Evan Phifer) — The White House Historical Association
  4. "Eggnog: It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Starts a Holiday Riot" (Natasha Geiling) — Smithsonian Magazine

Shownotes

SOUND: "Oh Christmas Tree" (The Texas Gypsies)

FOOTAGE: PhotoAttractive (Getty) // National Photo Company Collection (Library of Congress) // USMA Bicentennial Website (Wikipedia Commons) // CITED SOURCES AND NEWS OUTLETS ARE NOT AFFILIATED WITH AND HAVE NOT ENDORSED OR SPONSORED ANY PORTION OF THIS PRODUCTION.

Sources

  1. History
    "George Washington Crosses the Delaware" 
  2. The White House Historical Association
    "The Christmas Eve West Wing Fire of 1929" (Joel D. Treese, Evan Phifer)
  3. Smithsonian Magazine
    "Eggnog: It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Starts a Holiday Riot" (Natasha Geiling)

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