Black Christmas, 1941
Everything was going smoothly until the second act, when a light bulb malfunctioned and set a drape ablaze. The flames quickly spread to the scenery hanging from the ceiling, and panicked cast members fled for safety as flaming bits of fabric rained down on the stage. Terrified theatergoers, serenaded with a dreamy waltz just moments earlier, stampeded for the exits as the stage collapsed and the lights went dark.
For a small garrison of British, Canadian, Hong Konger and Indian soldiers tasked with defending the British colony of Hong Kong during World War II, the holiday blues started long before Christmas day. In fact, it was early summer when the threat of Japanese attack became so serious they began to evacuate women and children from the colony. The assault didn't come until Dec. 8, but when it did, the outmanned and outgunned Allied forces faced the fight of their lives.
After a week of fierce combat, the Japanese had muscled their way to the doorstep of the central city on Hong Kong Island. The Axis power demanded that the British surrender the colony, but they refused. The Japanese pushed on, slaughtering Allied soldiers even as they attempted to surrender.
By Dec. 25, things were looking grim for the British; Japanese air raids had cut the city's water mains and destroyed its power plant. The British governor, Sir Mark Young, made the tough decision to surrender at 3:30 p.m. on Christmas day [source: History.com]. By the time the white flags went up, some 4,000 soldiers from both sides had perished in the two-and-a-half week battle [source: Coates].
Despite the surrender, violence continued in Hong Kong. Japanese soldiers tortured, abused and starved their enemy prisoners and wreaked havoc on the colony's Chinese population by plundering and destroying villages, murdering civilians and raping as many as 10,000 women [source: Economist]. It's no wonder the British surrender is known as "Black Christmas."