December 21st is the Winter Solstice and the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. It is interesting that a day covered in darkness can be marked by boldness — in exploration of geographic and political boundaries as well as in acts of terror.
The Mayflower went ashore at Plymouth. While there is debate about whether they truly landed at Plymouth Rock, one thing is certain they arrived in the dead of winter and faced immediate hardship. It took two weeks to build the first structure, a common house. Of the 102 immigrants, 45 died during that first winter.
This day is celebrated as a holiday in Plymouth as Forefathers’ Day.
Apollo 8 launched and was the first manned mission to orbit the Moon.
Pan Am Flight 103 from Frankfurt to Detroit via London and New York City was destroyed by a terrorist bomb in the cargo bay the detonated 33 minutes after take from London killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew on board. Large sections of the aircraft crashed into Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 11 more people on the ground. It remains the worst aviation disaster in UK history. Victims included 35 students from Syracuse University who were returning from a semester in London.
Following a three-year joint investigation by Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, arrest warrants were issued for two Libyan nationals in November 1991. In 1999, Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi eventually handed over the two men for trial at Camp Zeist, Netherlands after protracted negotiations and UN sanctions. In 2001, Libyan intelligence officer, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was jailed for the bombing. In August 2009, he was released by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. He died in May 2012, remaining the only person to be convicted for the attack.
In 2003, Gaddafi accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and paid compensation to the families of the victims, although he maintained never having given the order for the attack. During the Libyan civil war, in 2011, a former government official contradicted Gaddafi claiming that the Libyan leader had personally ordered the bombing.
On 21 December 1991, the leaders of eight additional former Soviet Republics – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – signed the Alma-Ata Protocol and joined the Commonwealth of Independent States, thus bringing the number of participating countries to 11. Georgia joined two years later, in December 1993. At this point, 12 former Soviet Republics (all save the Baltic States) participated in the CIS. This signaled the death of the Soviet Union.