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CHRISTMAS EVE: Births: St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, 1491; William Warburton, bishop and scholar, 1698; James Prescott Joule, physicist, 1818; Matthew Arnold, poet and critic, 1822; Louis Jouvet, actor and director, 1887; Howard Robard Hughes, millionaire and recluse, 1905; Ava Lavinia Gardner (Lucy Johnson), actress, 1922. Deaths: Sir Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter, admiral and commander, 1426; Vasco da Gama, explorer and navigator, 1524; William Makepeace Thackeray, novelist, 1863; Frank Richards (Charles Harold St John Hamilton), author and creator of "Billy Bunter", 1961; Peter Lawford, actor, 1984; John James Osborne, playwright and actor, 1994. On this day: an attempt was made to assassinate Napoleon I, 1800; William Burke, body-snatcher, went on trial, 1828; part of the Capitol, Washington, and almost the whole Library of Congress was destroyed by fire, 1851; Giuseppe Verdi's opera Aida was performed for the first time, Cairo 1871; the Coliseum Theatre, London, opened, containing Britain's first revolving stage, 1904; General Eisenhower was appointed commander-in-chief of the Allied invasion forces, 1943; the Apollo 8 spacecraft orbited the moon and sent back a Christmas message, 1968. Today is Christmas Eve and the Feast Day of St Adela, St Delphinus, St Gregory of Spoleto, St Irmina, St Sharbel Makhlouf and Saints Tharsilla and Emiliana.

CHRISTMAS DAY: Births: Sir Isaac Newton, mathematician, physicist and astronomer, 1642; William Collins, poet, 1721; Dorothy Wordsworth, writer, 1771; Clara (Clarissa) Harlowe Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, 1821; Charles Pathe, film pioneer, 1863; Mohammed Ali Jinnah, statesman, 1876; Maurice Utrillo, painter, 1883; Conrad Nicholson Hilton, hotel proprietor, 1887; Dame Rebecca West (Cecily Isabel Fairfield), author, 1892; Humphrey DeForest Bogart, actor, 1899; Cabell (Cab) Calloway, jazz singer and band- leader, 1907; Anwar Sadat, statesman, 1918. Deaths: Pope Adrian I, 795; Sir Matthew Hale, Chief Justice and law reformer, 1676; W.C. Fields (William Claude Dukenfield), comedian, 1946; Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin, comedian and film producer, 1977; Joan Mir, artist, 1983; Nicolae Ceausescu, former Romanian president, and his wife Elena, executed by firing squad 1989; Dean Martin (Dino Paul Crocetti), singer and actor, 1995. On this day: William I, "the Conqueror", was crowned in Westminster Abbey, 1066; Vasco da Gama sighted the African coastline of what is now Natal, 1497; the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, 1620; the Great Frost of London began, when temperatures were 17 degrees below freezing, 1730; the first Christmas tree was put up at Queen's Lodge, Windsor, by Queen Charlotte, 1800; the Stone of Scone was stolen from Westminster Abbey, 1951; Vaclav Havel, playwright, was elected president of Czechoslovakia, 1989; in the Soviet Union, President Gorbachev announced that he had resigned all offices, and that the union was officially disbanded - it would be replaced by a Commonwealth of Independent States, 1991. Tomorrow is Christmas Day and the Feast Day of St Alburga, St Anastasia of Sirmium, St Eugenia and The Martyrs of Nicomedia.