Dec 25, 2011

The Writer's Almanac for December 25, 2011

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Dec. 25, 2011

The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor

Joyce Sutphen - Visit the Writer's Almanac Bookshelf to read an interview with Minnesota's new Poet Laureate


My Earliest Memory

by Ray Gonzalez

I am flying through the air,
held up as a one-year-old
in my grandmother's right hand,
her arm straight up
as she lies in her bed,
trying to make me quit crying.

She made me fly every night,
my eyes staring at the votive candles
flickering on the nightstand
as if I knew something about the flames,
this joyful play at night
meaning I would see things
from above before I would
set my tiny feet on the ground
for the first time.

Giggling and flying;
my grandmother holding me up
by one strong hand,
telling me the boy who flies
will sleep better once
he leaves the earth.

"My Earliest Memory" by Ray Gonzalez, from The Hawk Temple at Tierra Grande. © BOA Editions, Ltd., 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is Christmas Day.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (books by this author) wrote:
"I heard the bells, on Christmas Day,
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

It's a holiday observed by about 95 percent of Americans and one-third of the population worldwide. For some, today marks the beginning of the Twelve Days of Christmas, or Christmastide, a week and a half of feasting and revelry that culminates in the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6.

Some of the most traditional holiday foods and beverages consumed today have their origins in age-old Christmastide dishes, like plum puddings and other fruitcakes; wassail, the hot, mulled cider punch; or king's cake, a sweet pastry or bread that conceals a bean or trinket that entitles the finder to be crowned king or queen of the day.

Washington Irving (books by this author) famously said, "Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart."

In Victorian England, the church bells rang on Christmas morning and families went to Mass, came home for Christmas dinner, which was usually a goose or a joint of roast beef. Turkey was popular in America but not in England until the late 19th century. The Christmas pudding had been made weeks before, with beef, raisins, and prunes; it had to be stirred up. The mince pies were brought out, made with mincemeat, fruit, spices, and had to be eaten for the twelve days of Christmas to ensure good luck for the coming year. After dinner, everyone exchanged gifts, followed by parlor games and carol singing.

It was Charles Dickens' (books by this author) A Christmas Carol in 1843 that revived Christmas, after the Puritans had stamped out much of what was left of the old medieval Christmas in England. Dickens described the holidays as "a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys."

The Lewis and Clark Expedition spent the Christmas of 1804 in a newly completed fort on the Missouri River near what is now Washburn, North Dakota. William Clark mentioned in his writings: "I was awakened before Day by a discharge of 3 platoons from the Party ... the men merrily Disposed, I gave them all a little [rum] and permited [sic] 3 cannon fired ... Some Men Went out to hunt and the others to Danceing [sic] and Continued untill [sic] 9 oClock P.M. when the frolick [sic] ended."

The Novelist Oren Arnold (books by this author) had the following Christmas gift suggestions: "To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

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