Today is Monday, Dec. 24, the 359th day of 2012. There are seven days left in the year. This is Christmas Eve.
Today's Highlight in History:
On Dec. 24, 1955, the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., fielded a series of phone calls from children wanting to know the whereabouts of Santa Claus after an ad in a local newspaper mistakenly gave the Center's number; thus began a tradition continued by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) of tracking Santa's location the night before Christmas.
On this date:
In 1524, Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama — who had discovered a sea route around Africa to India — died in Cochin, India.
In 1814, the War of 1812 officially ended as the United States and Britain signed the Treaty of Ghent.
In 1851, fire devastated the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., destroying about 35,000 volumes.
In 1865, several veterans of the Confederate Army formed a private social club in Pulaski, Tenn., called the Ku Klux Klan.
In 1871, Giuseppe Verdi's opera "Aida" had its world premiere in Cairo, Egypt.
In 1906, Canadian physicist Reginald A. Fessenden became the first person to transmit the human voice (his own) as well as music over radio, from Brant Rock, Mass.
In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe as part of Operation Overlord.
In 1951, Gian Carlo Menotti's "Amahl and the Night Visitors," the first opera written specifically for television, was first broadcast by NBC-TV.
In 1968, the Apollo 8 astronauts, orbiting the moon, read passages from the Old Testament Book of Genesis during a Christmas Eve telecast.
In 1980, Americans remembered the U.S. hostages in Iran by burning candles or shining lights for 417 seconds — one second for each day of captivity.
In 1992, President George H.W. Bush pardoned former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and five others in connection with the Iran-Contra scandal. President-elect Bill Clinton chose Zoe Baird to be his attorney general, but the nomination fell apart over Baird's hiring of illegal aliens as domestic workers.
In 2000, a group of escaped convicts robbed a sporting goods store in Irving, Texas; the robbery was interrupted by a police officer, Aubrey Hawkins, who was killed by the fugitive gang.
Ten years ago: Laci Peterson was reported missing from her Modesto, Calif., home, by her husband, Scott, who was later convicted of murdering her and their unborn son. Saddam Hussein said in an address read on television that Iraqis were ready to fight a holy war against the United States. Chinese pro-democracy activist Xu Wenli (zhoo wen-lee) was released from a prison in Beijing and flown to the United States.
Five years ago: President George W. Bush made Christmas Eve calls to 10 U.S. troops serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and other spots around the world, thanking them for their sacrifice and wishing them a happy holiday. French news cameraman Gwen Le Gouil was released eight days after he had been abducted by Somali gunmen outside the town of Bossaso.
One year ago: In a setback, Republican presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry failed to qualify for Virginia's Super Tuesday primary ballot by falling short of the 10,000 signatures required to appear on the ballot. Troops commanded by relatives of Yemen's outgoing president, Ali Abdullah Saleh (AH'-lee ahb-DUH'-luh sah-LEH'), attacked a crowd of more than 100,000 peaceful protesters, killing at least nine and driving Saleh to promise to leave the country. Pope Benedict XVI decried the increasing commercialization of Christmas as he celebrated Christmas Eve Mass.
Today's Birthdays: Songwriter-bandleader Dave Bartholomew is 92. Author Mary Higgins Clark is 85. Federal health official Anthony S. Fauci is 72. Recording company executive Mike Curb is 68. Rock singer-musician Lemmy (Motorhead) is 67. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., is 66. Actor Grand L. Bush is 57. Actor Clarence Gilyard is 57. Actress Stephanie Hodge is 56. The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai (HAH'-mihd KAHR'-zeye), is 55. Rock musician Ian Burden (The Human League) is 55. Actor Anil Kapoor is 53. Actor Wade Williams is 51. Designer Kate Spade is 50. Rock singer Mary Ramsey (10,000 Maniacs) is 49. Actor Mark Valley is 48. Actor Diedrich Bader is 46. Actor Amaury Nolasco is 42. Singer Ricky Martin is 41. Author Stephenie Meyer ("Twilight") is 39. "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest is 38. Rock singer Louis Tomlinson (One Direction) is 21.
Thought for Today: "Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful." — The Rev. Norman Vincent Peale (born 1898, died this day in 1993).
(Above Advance for Use Monday, Dec. 24)
Copyright 2012, The Associated Press. All rights reserved.