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This Month in History Around the World - December

The Advent Calendar

Advent calendars are undoubtedly a festive staple in New Zealand as in many countries around the world, with children and adults alike leaping out of bed to discover what is behind the little numbered door that day. Modern advent calendars can hide anything from chocolate to wine behind their doors as we count down to Christmas.

But where did advent calendars come from? Let’s explore the history of this popular festive tradition… Historians believe that the period of Advent has been celebrated since the fourth century, originally signifying the time when religious converts prepared for baptism. In the 6th century, as the celebration of Christmas as Christ’s birth became more widely celebrated, it became a holiday symbolizing hope and expectation surrounding the second coming of Christ

The origin of the advent calendar tradition came later – it can be traced back to the Nineteenth Century, when German Protestants began to mark the days leading up to Christmas by burning a candle or marking walls or doors with a line of chalk.

Advent calendars as we know them first appeared at the beginning of the twentieth century in Germany; Gerhard Lang is widely credited as the creator of the first printed version. In 1908, Lang had an idea based on a tradition from his childhood, where his mother would help him count down to Christmas by attaching 24 little sweets to cardboard squares. He designed his own version with coloured pictures – this is thought to be the first-ever printed advent calendar. Lang later modified his calendars to include little doors – the calendar was a roaring success and undoubtedly influenced modern-day incarnations! Since then there have been many weird and wonderful variations of the advent calendar idea – including everything from cheese to LEGO, gin to makeup, and I have even seen one that is for your dog this year!

And did you know…?

• The first chocolate advent calendar appeared in 1958, with Cadbury launching their first in 1971.

• The world’s largest advent calendar was built in 2007 at St. Pancras station in London, measuring 232 feet by 11 inches tall and 75 feet by 5 inches wide.

• Kevin Strahle holds the record for the fastest time to eat all the chocolates from an advent calendar, doing it in 1 minute 27.84 seconds.

• One of the most expensive advent calendars to ever hit the ‘shelves’ was a four-foot Christmas-tree-shaped carved wooden structure available at Harrods in 2007, costing a whopping $50,000.

Dec 7, 1941 - US National Pearl Harbour Remembrance Day

Each year on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Survivors, veterans, and visitors from all over the world come together to honor and remember the 2,403 service members and civilians who were killed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. A further 1,178 people were injured in the attack, which permanently sank two U.S. Navy battleships (the USS Arizona and the USS Utah) and destroyed 188 aircraft.

The United States Congress designated Dec. 7 as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day on Aug. 23, 1994,. Every year, remembrance events are held at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, culminating in a commemoration ceremony on Dec.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service upon the United States against the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, just before 8:00 a.m., on Sunday, December 7, 1941. The United States was a neutral country at the time and the Japanese intended the attack as a preventive action. Its aim was to prevent the United States Pacific Fleet from interfering with its planned military actions in Southeast Asia against overseas territories of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and those of the United States. Over the course of seven hours there were coordinated Japanese attacks on the US-held Philippines, Guam, and Wake Island and on the British Empire in Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

The attack was later ruled a war crime and consequently meant that the U.S. felt it could longer maintain neutrality and avoid an active fight. On December 8, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked Congress for and received a declaration of war against Japan.

The goal of the commemoration is to ensure that future generations will understand the valor and legacy of those who perished and those who fought throughout the war. The commemoration also highlights the importance of the peace that brought reconciliation, a reconciliation that continues to move forward today in creating a better future for all.

December 10, 1962 - Maurice Wilkins wins Nobel Prize

New Zealand-born Maurice Wilkins and his colleagues James Watson and Francis Crick shared the prize for their investigation of the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the genetic molecule found in all organisms. Watson used X-rays to show the shape of the double helix. Born in the tiny north Wairarapa settlement of Pongaroa, Wilkins moved to Birmingham, England, when he was six. He received his PhD in physics from the University of Birmingham in 1940.

During the early years of the Second World War, Wilkins focused his postgraduate research on improving the cathode-ray screens used in radar and then worked on the separation of isotopes in bombs. In 1943 he moved to Berkeley, California, where he worked on the Manhattan Project, which helped to develop the first atomic bomb. Wilkins later confessed to feeling ‘very disgusted with the dropping of two bombs on civilian centres in Japan’. Disillusioned by nuclear physics and its military applications, he would become involved in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

In 1946 Wilkins moved into the relatively new field of biophysics. He became a member of the Medical Research Council at King’s College in London, working on the genetic effects of the ultrasound used for medical purposes. He then turned his attention to the use of X-ray diffraction to probe the structure of DNA. The patterns formed by the scattered X-rays showed that the DNA molecule had a double spiral structure.

In 1953, Watson and Crick built on the work of Wilkins and the British physical chemist Rosalind Franklin to deduce the structure of the DNA molecule. This discovery of set the stage for rapid advances in molecular biology over the next 50 years. In the decade that followed Wilkins published a number of papers verifying the Watson–Crick Model. The Nobel Prize was awarded to all three men in 1962. Franklin had died in 1958. Maurice Wilkins died in 2004.

December 13, 1642 - First recorded European sighting of New Zealand

Towards noon the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sighted ‘a large land, uplifted high’. His vessel was probably off Punakaiki, so this may have been the peaks of the Paparoa Range.

Tasman sailed from Batavia (today’s Jakarta) in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) in August 1642. His expedition had two aims: to establish whether there was a southern sea route to Chile which could be used to prey on Spanish ships, and to exploit the resources of the ‘great southern continent’ which many believed existed between Australia and Cape Horn. The Dutch had already charted Australia’s northern and western coasts, and part of its southern coast. How far this land extended to the east was still unknown.

Tasman commanded 110 men on two ships, the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen. He sighted Tasmania (as it would later be called) on 24 November, naming it Van Diemen’s Land after the governor-general of the Dutch East Indies. He then sailed east across the sea which now bears his name.

Also on the expedition was Isaac Gilsemans, who would be credited with drawing the first European images of New Zealand. These sketches refer to Staten Landt, the name Tasman gave to the country. Tasman’s ships turned north and sailed around Farewell Spit into what is now called Golden Bay, where they anchored on 18 December. It was here that the Dutch had a violent encounter with local Maori.

The local inhabitants of Mohua were Māori of Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri. Two waka paddled out to inspect the strange vessels. The Māori challenged the intruders with ritual incantations and pūkāea or pūtātara (trumpet) blasts, possibly to frighten away dangerous spirits. In response, the Dutch shouted and blew their own trumpets. They then fired a cannon, provoking an angry reaction.

Next morning, many waka came out to the Dutch ships. Four sailors were killed after a small boat was rammed by a waka. Heemskerck and Zeehaen quickly weighed anchor and sailed away. Tasman named the place Moordenaers’ (Murderers’) Bay. It is now called Golden Bay. It would be 127 years before the next recorded encounter between European and Māori, soon after James Cook’s Arrival in New Zealand in 1769.

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