12 Horrible Things That Happened on Christmas

Christmas is a time for peace on Earth, goodwill, presents, and of course, celebrating. And while it seems the only way Christmas to be bad is waking up to a lump of coal in your stocking (or, if you're spoiled, finding your mom got you the wrong iPhone,) some really bad stuff has happened on Christmas.

Some of the worst Christmas events involve massacres, murders, and mayhem. Some terrible presents include wars, death, and the birth of a hate group. Through all the cheeriness and carol singing, remember that bad things can still happen. As this list shows, some events are pretty gruesome, or at the very least pretty darn uncomfortable.

Photo: UpNorth Memories - Donald (Don) Harrison / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

  • Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami

    Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami
    Photo: ILO in Asia and the Pacific / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Though much of this happened the day after Christmas, it began on December 25, 2004. In the hours between Christmas Day and the day after, a massive earthquake, registering at least 9.1 on the Richter scale hit just off the west coast of Sumatra. The damage from that alone was devastating, as it was felt along the coast, but the tragedy didn't stop there. Aftershocks continued to roll as a tsunami of massive proportions gained strength and crashed into many countries surrounding the Indian Ocean with tragic results.

    In the 14 countries hit by the quake and tsunami, more than 230,000 people were killed. It was one of the worst tsunamis in history. Homes were destroyed, people went missing, and whole villages were lost, and the region is still feeling the effects of the disaster, even today.

  • The Formation of the KKK

    The Formation of the KKK
    Photo: Arete13 / flickr / CC-BY-ND 2.0

    Christmas hardly seems like the perfect day to form a hate group, but sure enough, that's what happened. On Christmas Eve in 1865, in Pulaski, TN, a group of men who previously served in the Confederate Army got together to chat. They put together a brand new group meant to uphold white supremacy, and to reverse the government's equal rights work after the Civil War. They wanted to make sure black people didn't get rights and that the South could continue with segregation. This group was known as the Ku Klux Klan. To this day the hate group has members across the United States. 

  • Congo Christmas Massacre

    Congo Christmas Massacre
    Photo: k-ideas / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    In the early 2000s, the Lord's Resistance Army was a Christian cult that was strong, terrifying, and ruthless in its pursuit of terrorism. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, they would terrorize locals by cutting off people's lips, killing children, and slaughtering entire villages. One such slaughter took place over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in 2008. The army targeted five villages, waited until they were celebrating the holiday, then attacked them all at once, killing virtually everyone. They used axes, bats, and machetes, and often raped women before they killed them.

    The final death toll is still uncertain, but some reports put the number at more 600 people killed in a span of only three days.

  • The Taeyongak Hotel Fire

    On Christmas Day 1971 in Seoul, things were pretty normal for the renowned Taeyongak Hotel. People were celebrating, some were settling in for the night, and everything seemed peaceful. Then, suddenly, disaster struck. A fire started after a gas explosion at the hotel. In what is called the worst hotel fire in history, the hotel was quickly engulfed in flames, with the entire expanse lighting up the night. By the time the fire was finally put out, more than 10 grueling hours later, 166 people had lost their lives. Most died of smoke inhalation, and eight people - including the hotel's owner - were arrested. 

  • The USSR Invades Afghanistan

    On December 24, 1979, the Soviet Union was poised to invade Afghanistan. Around midnight, the Soviets sent well over 8,000 men into Kabul, and they attacked the palace. While resistance was fierce, the Soviet troops were so overwhelming that there was simply nothing that could be done. Thousands were killed. By December 27, the Soviets had formed the Marxist People’s Democratic Party (PDPA) and instilled their own rule. It would not be until 1989 until the Soviets were finally driven out.

  • The Tangiwai Train Disaster

    What could go wrong while taking a little train ride on Christmas Eve through scenic New Zealand? Unfortunately, one such train ride in 1953 ended in tragedy. The Auckland night train was chugging around the tracks when, suddenly, it slid on the wet rails and plummeted down into the Whangaehu River. Out of the 285 passengers, more than half died in the crash or in the surging waters that engulfed the cars. Over the next few days, rescuers and volunteers found muddy and ruined presents throughout the wreckage from passengers trying to bring gifts to loved ones. It was heartbreaking. It remains, to this day, New Zealand's worst railway accident, and one of the word train accidents of all time.