Episode 8: Christmas 1814

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Second Decade wishes you happy holidays with this Christmas-themed episode. Of all the Christmases of the 1810s, the year 1814 stands out as especially significant. The world was celebrating its first holiday season in over two decades in the midst of general peace, except for one last pesky war that wouldn’t quite die. While the crowned heads at the Congress of Vienna—supposedly working for world peace but in reality boozing and partying like there was no tomorrow—were exposed to the highly flammable new holiday tradition known as the Christmas tree, a team of diplomats including future U.S. President John Quincy Adams were actually putting the Yuletide greeting “peace on earth” into practice. A convoluted and sometimes disheartening round of negotiations between two unequally-matched teams of statesmen yielded the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812 despite consciously avoiding resolution of all the major issues that caused the war in the first place. Now that’s diplomacy!

Historian Sean Munger begins this episode with a colorful look at the Christmas traditions being practiced in 1814, from a special kind of Christmas meat made from some very uncomfortable pigs, to the horrifying pyromaniacal English drinking game known as “Snapdragon.” Then he segues into the fascinating story of the Treaty of Ghent, why it almost didn’t happen and how the chrome-domed, short-tempered John Quincy Adams earned his chops as one of America’s most gifted diplomats.

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