10 Famous Birthdays to Celebrate in December
Some of our favorite historical figures were born in the month of December. We couldn't possibly name them all, but here are just a handful whose lives we'll be celebrating.
1. Walt Disney: December 5, 1901
Walter Elias Disney was a sketch artist from an early age, and his cartoons from the 1920s were so successful that he eventually opened his own studio, where Mickey Mouse was born. Always looking for bigger and better things, Disney produced the first full-length animated feature in 1937 (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), was an early adopter of television, and opened Disneyland in 1955. But to build an empire, you have to exert some serious control—even over unlikely things. Case in point: For 43 years, employees at Disney theme parks were forbidden from growing facial hair. That all changed in 2000 (four years after Disney's death) when the company decided to let male employees sport mustaches, a logical choice since Disney himself wore one throughout his life. There is a catch though: Employees must already have one when they get hired or grow it out on vacation. The trash 'stache look is not allowed.
2. Sammy Davis Jr.: December 8, 1925
Sammy Davis, Jr. was destined for show business. Born to two vaudevillians, he began performing on stage at age four, and you can watch his film debut at the age of seven in the short Rufus Jones For President (1933). Davis's career included vaudeville, standup comedy, singing, dancing, Broadway musicals, movies, and TV. He was a member of the infamous Rat Pack, along with Frank Sinatra, whose birthday is also this month. He was also particularly known for his celebrity impressions, which you can see here, including an impressive Michael Jackson mimic.
3. Emily Dickinson: December 10, 1830
Renowned poet Emily Dickinson spent most of her life at home in Amherst, Massachusetts, surrounded by family. While she's often remembered as a recluse, Dickinson did have a noteworthy social life—even to the point of scandal. We can only speculate how her many rumored paramours may have contributed to the passion in her romantic poems.
4. Ada Lovelace: December 10, 1815
Augusta Ada King-Noel died at the age of 36, but she managed to make a serious mark on humanity in her short life. As a young woman, Lovelace worked for professor Charles Babbage, who developed a theoretical computer in the 1830s. He assigned young Ada with figuring out how to input data to make the computer, well, compute. A brilliant mathematician, she was up to the task, and developed the world's first computer software, a century before there was an actual computer to use it. Take that, modern coders.
5. Frank Sinatra: December 12, 1915
Frank Sinatra might have had an air of ease about him, but began his life the hard way. The forceps used to bring him into the world left a lifelong scar on his left jaw and mangled his ear. And while he was always self-conscious about his looks, it didn't stop him from becoming an icon. "Ol' Blue Eyes" started his singing career with the big bands of the 1930s, effortlessly moved into the role of a teen heartthrob in the '40s, and began appearing in movies, where he proved to be a natural. In the 1950s, Sinatra had his own TV show, and won an Oscar for From Here to Eternity (not to mention his many Grammy Awards). When his record sales flagged, Sinatra became a record company executive, but ultimately made comebacks with his music in both the '60s and the '70s, while constantly adding to his acting credits.
6. Shirley Jackson: December 14, 1916
In the 1940s, Shirley Jackson was a housewife and mother of four with serious literary chops (and aspirations). One day in 1948, she sat down to write about an idea she'd been mulling over. In just two hours she produced the short story "The Lottery" [PDF], about a small town where every year, residents draw slips of paper, and one unlucky "winner" is stoned to death. Published in The New Yorker, it was an immediate sensation—because readers were horrified. The magazine was flooded with calls and letters, people canceled their subscriptions and others still, believing it was nonfiction, inquired as to how they could witness the ritual in the story. Jackson said nothing, preferring her work to speak on its own. She went on to write several more well-received novels, mostly horror and some humor. "The Lottery" has since become a classic think piece, and required reading in many schools.
7. Jane Austen: December 16, 1775
Jane Austen wrote her heart out from an early age, but did not publish her first novel until 1811, when she was 36 years old. Sense and Sensibility sold well, so Austen published Pride and Prejudice in 1813, a novel she completed when she was only 21. Two more novels followed, all published anonymously. It was only after Austen's death at age 41 that her true identity was revealed to the literary world. Two more of her novels were published posthumously.
8. Ludwig Van Beethoven: December 16, 1770
German composer Ludwig van Beethoven was in the right place at the right time to fill the void left by the death of Mozart. Beethoven became a rock star in the royal courts and concert halls of Europe, and had an ego to match his fame. When his hearing began to fail at around age 30, he stopped performing and dedicated his life to composing. Beethoven made his comeback in 1824 when he debuted his Symphony No. 9, which became his most famous work ever.
9. Clara Barton: December 25, 1821
Clarissa Harlowe Barton (who preferred to be called Clara) was working as a clerk in Washington D.C. when the Civil War began. She saw a need and went to work supporting Union troops with food, supplies, and medical care. Barton sought permission to bring food and medical supplies to front line clinics, where she was considered an "Angel of the Battlefield." Barton also searched for missing soldiers and worked to identify those in graveyards. She learned about the International Red Cross during a visit to Europe in 1869, and volunteered with the organization during the Franco-Prussian War. Her service impressed Red Cross officials in Europe, and Barton spent the next several years lobbying for the United States to open a chapter—the American Red Cross—which was established in 1881.
10. Henri Matisse: December 31, 1869
Henri Matisse was the leading artist of the Fauvist movement, though his art evolved during his more than half a century of work. Best known for his paintings, Matisse was also a sculptor and printmaker, but before all of that, he pursued a more practical career path: law. Matisse earned a legal degree and was working as a clerk in a law office when he came down with appendicitis in 1899. His mother brought him paints to use while he was recuperating, and the rest was history.
A version of this story ran in 2016; it has been updated for 2021.