Christmas in Maine, 1858

Earmuffs for Everyone! How Chester Greenwood Became Known as the Inventor of Earmuffs by Meghan McCarthy.

Chester Greenwood was born on December 4, 1858. He allegedly had large, cold ears and invented earmuffs to protect those ears at the age of 15. Well, according to author Meghan McCarthy, Chester at least improved the idea of earmuffs and got a patent for his new, improved earmuffs.

Ms. McCarthy’s illustrations are not my style, bug-eyed people with big heads and little beady pupils. But others might find the cartoonish people set in simple scenes to be just right. To each his own.

I do think Ms. McCarthy does a good job of telling Chester Greenwood’s story, the story of an inventor and an entrepreneur who didn’t “change the world” but did make his own small mark on it. In 1977, the Maine legislature declared Dec. 21 (the first day of winter) as Chester Greenwood Day.

The 22nd Gift of Christmas in Plymouth, Massachusetts, 1820

From Daniel Webster’s Plymouth Oration, delivered at Plymouth, Massachusetts, December 22, 1820:

Our fathers were brought hither by their high veneration for the Christian religion. They journeyed by its light, and labored in its hope. They sought to incorporate its principles with the elements of their society, and to diffuse its influence through all their institutions, civil, political, or literary. Let us cherish these sentiments, and extend this influence still more widely; in the full conviction, that that is the happiest society which partakes in the highest degree of the mild and peaceful spirit of Christianity.

The hours of this day are rapidly flying, and this occasion will soon be passed. Neither we nor our children can expect to behold its return. They are in the distant regions of futurity, they exist only in the all-creating power of God, who shall stand here a hundred years hence, to trace, through us, their descent from the Pilgrims, and to survey, as we have now surveyed, the progress of their country, during the lapse of a century. We would anticipate their concurrence with us in our sentiments of deep regard for our common ancestors. We would anticipate and partake the pleasure with which they will then recount the steps of New England’s advancement. On the morning of that day, although it will not disturb us in our repose, the voice of acclamation and gratitude, commencing on the Rock of Plymouth, shall be transmitted through millions of the sons of the Pilgrims, till it lose itself in the murmurs of the Pacific seas.

We would leave for the consideration of those who shall then occupy our places, some proof that we hold the blessings transmitted from our fathers in just estimation; some proof of our attachment to the cause of good government, and of civil and religious liberty; some proof of a sincere and ardent desire to promote every thing which may enlarge the understandings and improve the hearts of men. And when, from the long distance of a hundred years, they shall look back upon us, they shall know, at least, that we possessed affections, which, running backward and warming with gratitude for what our ancestors have done for our happiness, run forward also to our posterity, and meet them with cordial salutation, ere yet they have arrived on the shore of being.

Advance, then, ye future generations! We would hail you, as you rise in your long succession, to fill the places which we now fill, and to taste the blessings of existence where we are passing, and soon shall have passed, our own human duration. We bid you welcome to this pleasant land of the fathers. We bid you welcome to the healthful skies and the verdant fields of New England. We greet your accession to the great inheritance which we have enjoyed.

We welcome you to the blessings of good government and religious liberty. We welcome you to the treasures of science and the delights of learning. We welcome you to the transcendent sweets of domestic life, to the happiness of kindred, and parents, and children. We welcome you to the immeasurable blessings of rational existence, the immortal hope of Christianity, and the light of everlasting truth!

Note that Mr. Webster assumed that future generations would value certain ideals: science, learning, good government, religious liberty, domestic life, rationality, truth, hope, and most of all Christianity. If he were to travel through time and see us here, what would he think of our stewardship of the pleasant land of the fathers and of the blessings of liberty and of the immortal hope of Christianity?

Today’s Gifts from Semicolon:
A story: about Daniel Webster, just for fun: The Devil and Daniie Webster by Stephen Vincent Benet.

A song: On this day in 1808 Ludwig van Beethoven conducted and performed in concert at the Theater an der Wien, Vienna, with the premiere of his Fifth Symphony, Sixth Symphony, Fourth Piano Concerto (performed by Beethoven himself) and Choral Fantasy (with Beethoven at the piano).

A birthday: Edward Arlington Robinson, b.1869.

A booklist: Deliberate Reader with 31 Days of Great Nonfiction.

'Tombstone of Louisa P. Daugherty' photo (c) 2013, Bob Shrader - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/A verse:
A Happy Man by Edward Arlington Robinson

When these graven lines you see,
Traveller, do not pity me;
Though I be among the dead,
Let no mournful word be said.

Children that I leave behind,
And their children, all were kind;
Near to them and to my wife,
I was happy all my life.

My three sons I married right,
And their sons I rocked at night;
Death nor sorrow never brought
Cause for one unhappy thought.

Now, and with no need of tears,
Here they leave me, full of years,–
Leave me to my quiet rest
In the region of the blest.

The 16th Gift of Christmas in Surrey, England, 1815

From Emma by Jane Austen, chapter 16:

“To youth and natural cheerfulness like Emma’s, though under temporary gloom at night, the return of day will hardly fail to bring return of spirits. The youth and cheerfulness of morning are in happy analogy, and of powerful operation; and if the distress be not poignant enough to keep the eyes unclosed, they will be sure to open to sensations of softened pain and brighter hope.

Emma got up on the morrow more disposed for comfort than she had gone to bed, more ready to see alleviations of the evil before her, and to depend on getting tolerably out of it.

It was a great consolation that Mr. Elton should not be really in love with her, or so particularly amiable as to make it shocking to disappoint him—that Harriet’s nature should not be of that superior sort in which the feelings are most acute and retentive—and that there could be no necessity for any body’s knowing what had passed except the three principals, and especially for her father’s being given a moment’s uneasiness about it.

These were very cheering thoughts; and the sight of a great deal of snow on the ground did her further service, for any thing was welcome that might justify their all three being quite asunder at present.

The weather was most favourable for her; though Christmas-day, she could not go to church. Mr. Woodhouse would have been miserable had his daughter attempted it, and she was therefore safe from either exciting or receiving unpleasant and most unsuitable ideas. The ground covered with snow, and the atmosphere in that unsettled state between frost and thaw, which is of all others the most unfriendly for exercise, every morning beginning in rain or snow, and every evening setting in to freeze, she was for many days a most honourable prisoner. No intercourse with Harriet possible but by note; no church for her on Sunday any more than on Christmas-day; and no need to find excuses for Mr. Elton’s absenting himself.”

Today’s Gifts from Semicolon:
A song:

A birthday:
Ludwig von Beethoven, b.1770.
Jane Austen, b.1775.
Marie Hall Ets b.1895, author of many children’s picture books including Gilberto and the Wind and Nine Days to Christmas
Playwright Noel Coward, b.1896
Arthur C. Clarke, b.1917, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey and other science fiction classics.

Who knew that Jane Austen and Beethoven were near in age and shared a birthdate?

Jane Austen and the Longing for Fidelity and Honor

51IDqyyYbhL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Happy Birthday, Jane Austen!

We discussed the novels of Jane Austen recently in Sunday School class at my church (studying this book by Jerome Barrs), and we particularly focused on the reason for Austen’s burst in popularity in the past 20 years or so. Of course, movie and TV mini-series versions of Austen’s novels fueled the resurgence in her popularity, and Jane Austen never has really gone out of fashion. However, why do these novels, and their screen adaptations, resonate with so many readers and watchers?

Mr Barrs writes:

“Why this popularity? Is it simply the beautiful dresses that the women wear? Is it a bizarre nostalgia for romanticism? (Austen was certainly not a romantic in the technical sense of this term; in fact she attacks romanticism with great passion in Sense and Sensibility.) Is it simply an escape from the cynicism of our post-modern age? Is it a longing for manners and courtesy, for a kinder, gentler way of relating to one another in an age of culture wars? Is it a secret interest in genuine romance to replace the cultural norm of instant coupling and gratification? I mention these various options because each of them has been expressed in movie reviews and in articles about the Jane Austen ‘craze.'”

Mr. Barrs goes to suggest that the humor and character development in the books serves to make us tolerate, if not embrace, the profound moral lessons that they contain. All of these things are at least part of the truth. Some people watch the 1995 TV mini-series version of Pride and Prejudice for the costumes and the courtly manners. Others love the idea of romance in the novels, ignoring the common sense and decidedly unromantic way Austen looks at courtship and marriage in general. However, I think there’s something deeper going on in our cultural embrace of the pre-Romantic, eighteenth century norms embodied in the novels of Jane Austen.

It’s similar to what is going on in our love for The Lord of the Rings. We’ve lost the concept of “honor” in our society, yet we long for it because God made us to be honorable men and women and to attribute honor to goodness and faithfulness in both men and women. When we watch or read LOTR, we are confronted with men, elves, dwarfs, and hobbits who are above all, honorable, or at least trying to be virtuous, and we recognize the dearth of honor and virtue in our own culture.

C.S. Lewis famously wrote in his book The Abolition of Man, ““We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.” He could have added that we devalue and distort the institution of marriage and the relations between men and women, and we are surprised that many young people no longer see any reason to get married or any value in the marriage relationship. However, we were made, male and female, to give ourselves in a faithful, monogamous marriage relationship, and when we see or read about a society (eighteenth century England) in which that is the norm, even if the marriages themselves and the courtship preceding them are flawed and imperfect, the word picture touches something deep within us. Women want to find an honorable man like Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley, who also honors and cherishes his Elizabeth Bennet or Emma Wodehouse. Men, although not as likely to read and re-read the works of Jane Austen, can also appreciate the characters of sensible, intelligent women in Austen’s novels who are nevertheless willing and even eager to enter into a lifelong commitment to one imperfect but honorable man.

I think it is because marriage is so endangered and devalued in our culture that we embrace the stories Jane Austen told. When I read The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides a couple of years ago, I wrote of that novel’s themes, “Perhaps the idea is that we’ve reduced marriage to sexual attraction and sexual athletics, and we’ve reduced knowing God to going through the forms and expressions of religion and being good.” I wasn’t really sure what I thought about Eugenides’ novel when I read it, but his central premise that we’ve lost, or nearly lost, something valuable in our approach to love and marriage has stuck with me. Jane Austen’s novels give a glimpse of what we’ve lost, and it’s attractive and soul-satisfying, even if we don’t know exactly how to recapture the reality of the “marriage plot” we’ve lost.

The 11th Gift of Christmas in Atlanta, Georgia, 1863

“Now Ashley was going away, back to Virginia, back to the long marches in the sleet, to hungry bivouacs in the snow, to pain and hardship and to the risk of all the bright beauty of his golden head and proud slender body being blotted out in an instant, like an ant beneath a careless heel. The past week with its shimmering, dreamlike beauty, its crowded hours of happiness, was gone.
The week had passed swiftly, like a dream, a dream fragrant with the smell of pine boughs and Christmas trees, bright with little candles and home-made tinsel, a dream where minutes flew as rapidly as heartbeats. Such a breathless week when something within her drove Scarlett with mingled pain and pleasure to pack and cram every minute with incidents to remember after he was gone, happenings which she could examine at leisure in the long months ahead, extracting every morsel of comfort from them — dance, sing, laugh, fetch and carry for Ashley, anticipate his wants, smile when he smiles, be silent when he talks, follow him with your eyes so that each line of his erect body, each lift of his eyebrows, each quirk of his mouth, will be indelibly printed on your mind — for a week goes by so fast and the war goes on forever.” ~Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Today’s Gifts from Semicolon:
A song: Hark the Herald Angels Sing

A booklist: Historical Fiction for Young Ladies, Part 1
Historical Fiction for Young Ladies, Part 2

A birthday: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, b.1918.

A poem: A Child of the Snows by Gilbert Chesterton

There is heard a hymn when the panes are dim,
And never before or again,
When the nights are strong with a darkness long,
And the dark is alive with rain.

Never we know but in sleet and in snow,
The place where the great fires are,
That the midst of the earth is a raging mirth
And the heart of the earth a star.

And at night we win to the ancient inn
Where the child in the frost is furled,
We follow the feet where all souls meet
At the inn at the end of the world.

The gods lie dead where the leaves lie red,
For the flame of the sun is flown,
The gods lie cold where the leaves lie gold,
And a Child comes forth alone.

The 9th Gift of Christmas in Denmark, 1843

“Thousands of lights were burning on the green branches, and gaily-colored pictures, such as she had seen in the shop-windows, looked down upon her. The little maiden stretched out her hands towards them when–the match went out. The lights of the Christmas tree rose higher and higher, she saw them now as stars in heaven.” ~The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen.

'The Little Match Girl' photo (c) 2008, Justin Ennis - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Today’s Gifts:
A song: On December 8, 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired on CBS.

A booklist: Top 10 Poetry Books for Christmas (books about writing and reading poetry) at Seedlings in Stone

A birthday: John Milton, poet, b.1608.
Joel Chandler Harris, folklorist, b.1848

A poem: Hymn on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity by John Milton.

The 8th Gift of Christmas on Prince Edward Island, c.1877

Christmas morning broke on a beautiful white world. It had been a very mild December and people had looked forward to a green Christmas; but just enough snow fell softly in the night to transfigure Avonlea. Anne peeped out from her frosted gable window with delighted eyes. The firs in the Haunted Wood were all feathery and wonderful; the birches and wild cherry trees were outlined in pearl; the plowed fields were stretches of snowy dimples; and there was a crisp tang in the air that was glorious. Anne ran downstairs singing until her voice reechoed through Green Gables.
“Merry Christmas, Marilla! Merry Christmas, Matthew! Isn’t it a lovely Christmas? I’m so glad it’s white. Any other kind of Christmas doesn’t seem real, does it? I don’t like green Christmases. They’re not green– they’re just nasty faded browns and grays. What makes people call them green? Why–why–Matthew, is that for me? Oh, Matthew!”
Matthew had sheepishly unfolded the dress from its paper swathings and held it out with a deprecatory glance at Marilla, who feigned to be contemptuously filling the teapot, but nevertheless watched the scene out of the corner of her eye with a rather interested air.
Anne took the dress and looked at it in reverent silence. Oh, how pretty it was–a lovely soft brown gloria with all the gloss of silk; a skirt with dainty frills and shirrings; a waist elaborately pintucked in the most fashionable way, with a little ruffle of filmy lace at the neck. But the sleeves–they were the crowning glory! Long elbow cuffs, and above them two beautiful puffs divided by rows of shirring and bows of brown-silk ribbon.
“That’s a Christmas present for you, Anne,” said Matthew shyly. “Why–why–Anne, don’t you like it? Well now–well now.”
For Anne’s eyes had suddenly filled with tears.
~Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Today’s Gifts from Semicolon:
A song: Be Still My Soul, music by Jean Sibelius.

A booklist: Feels Like Home: 101 Chapter Books to Read Before You Grow Up.

A birthday: Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, b.1865.

A poem: Jest ‘Fore Christmas by Eugene Field.

The 6th Gift of Christmas in Ireland, c.1913

Today is St. Nicholas Day. But the following quote from the story “A Candle for St. Bridget” by Ruth Sawyer features a different saint, St. Bridget of Ireland:

“It was a day of celebration; we had currants in the griddle bread, and Mickey, the post-boy, dropped in for his ‘sup o’ tea.’ I was given a free choice of a the stories I would be hearing again, and I chose St. Bridget. With the moor wind caoining around the chimney and the turf blazing high, the children stretched on the clay floor, and Delia with her foot on the cradle keeping the ‘wee-eat one’ hushed, Michael took us over the hills again to Bethlehem to the manger wherein Mary had laid her baby. We saw the byre with its rude stalls and the crib where the hay was stacked; we saw the gray donkey munching contentedly and Joseph, fallen asleep; and we saw Bridget stoop and take the baby to her own heart and croon him his first cradle-song. All this we saw by ‘the light of the Wee Child’s own glory’ and the gift of Michael Donnelly’s tongue.” ~from A Newbery Christmas, Fourteen Stories of Christmas selected by Martin H. Greenberg and Charles G. Waugh.

Today’s gifts from Semicolon:
A song: Santa Claus Is Coming to Town

A booklist: Celebrating the Irish

A birthday: Joyce Kilmer, b.1886.

A poem: The Fourth Shepherd by Joyce Kilmer.

The 5th Gift of Christmas in Room 13, Oliver Street School, 1944

From The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes:

Dear Miss Mason: How are you and Room 13? Please tell the girls they can keep those hundred dresses because in my new house I have a hundred new ones all lined up in my closet. I’d like that girl Peggy to have the drawing of the green dress with the red trimming and her friend Maddie to have the blue one. For Christmas. I miss that school and my new teacher does not equalize with you. Merry Christmas to you and everybody. Yours truly,
Wanda Petronski

“The teacher passed the letter around the room for everybody to see. It was pretty, decorated with a picture of a Christmas tree lighted up in the night in a park surrounded by high buildings.”

51Z3YQ1adYL._SX258_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Since bullying is the topic du jour these days in children’s books and school assemblies, a retrieval of this classic story about Polish immigrant Wanda Petronski and her encounters with the girls of “Room 13” would certainly remind us that the problem of the strong pushing around the weak is not a new one. And the story gives some keys to the solutions: empathy developed by understanding, distance sometimes, and inner strength. Art helps, too.

Today’s Gifts from Semicolon
A song: In the Bleak Midwinter, lyrics by Christian Rossetti, music by Gustav Holst.

A booklist: Biographies of the U.S. Presidents (books I’m planning to read)

A birthday: Christina Rossetti, b.1830.
Walt Disney, b. 1901. The movie, Saving Mr. Banks, about Walt Disney and author P.L. Travers and the making of the movie version of Mary Poppins opens in theaters December 20th.

A poem: Love Came Down at Christmas by Christina Rossetti.

The 4th Gift of Christmas at Wounded Knee Creek, 1891

Despite heart-warming stories such as the Christmas Truce of 1914 and the redemption of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Christmas and its message of “peace on earth, goodwill to men”, does not always bring about compassion nor does it everywhere restrain evil.

“In late 1891, Tibbles and Susette [La Flesche] traveled to Pine Ridge, on of the Sioux reservations in southwestern South Dakota. Many had fled the reservation, fearful of the soldiers who’d come to quell any disturbances aroused by the Ghost Dance. Starving Indians danced to bring the savior, to se departed loved ones living again, and to see the whites driven away and a new earth returned, once again home to free Indians, the buffalo, the elk, and the antelope.

On Christmas Eve, soldiers slaughtered a band of Indians camped near Wounded Knee Creek; they were under Chief Big Foot and included men, women, and children. In one of the darkest moments of her life, Susette helped care for the survivors that escaped to Pine Ridge.”
~Women of the Frontier by Brandon Marie Miller

And this episode and other like it illustrate why we need more than a message from angels, more than the moral law that we know to be true: we need a Savior.

Today’s Gifts from Semicolon
A song: “I understand Christmas as I understand Bach’s Sleepers Awake or Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. . . When I am able to pray with the mind in the heart, I am joyfully able to affirm the irrationality of Christmas.” ~Madeleine L’Engle

A booklist: A Madeleine L’Engle Annotated Bibliography

A birthday: Nick Vujicic, Serbian Australian evangelist and motivational speaker, b. 1982.

A verse: God Knows by Minnie Louise Haskins.