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 15th Gift of Christmas in South Africa, 1969-?

From Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela:

“What Sundays were to the rest of the week, Christmas was to the rest of the year. It was the one day when the authorities showed any goodwill toward men. We did not have to go to the quarry on Christmas Day, and we were permitted to purchase a small quantity of sweets. We did not have a traditional Christmas meal, but we were given an extra mug of coffee for supper.
The authorities permitted us to organize a concert, hold competitions, and put on a play. The concert was the centerpiece. . . . The concert took place on Christmas morning in the courtyard. We would mix in traditional English Christmas songs with African ones, and include a few protest songs—the authorities did not seem to mind or perhaps know the difference. The warders were our audience, and they enjoyed our singing much as we did.”

Today’s Gifts from Semicolon:
A song: Soweto Gospel Choir sings Amen.

A birthday: Ann Nolan Clark, b.1896, author of Secret of the Andes, a story about a South American Incan boy which won the 1953 Newbery Medal.
Betty Smith, author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

The 13th Gift of Christmas in Italy, 1294

“The cardinals assembled at Perugia after the death of Pope Nicholas IV in April 1292. After more than two years, a consensus had still not been reached. Pietro, well known to the cardinals as a Benedictine hermit, sent the cardinals a letter warning them that divine vengeance would fall upon them if they did not quickly elect a pope. Latino Malabranca, the aged and ill dean of the College of Cardinals cried out, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, I elect brother Pietro di Morrone.” The cardinals promptly ratified Malabranca’s desperate decision. When sent for, Pietro obstinately refused to accept the papacy, and even, as Petrarch says, tried to flee, until he was finally persuaded by a deputation of cardinals accompanied by the kings of Naples and Hungary. Elected on 5 July 1294, at age 79, he was crowned at Santa Maria di Collemaggio in the city of Aquila in the Abruzzo on 29 August, taking the name Celestine V.

Realizing his lack of authority and personal incompatibility with papal duties, he consulted with Cardinal Benedetto Caetani (his eventual successor) about the possibility of resignation. This resulted in one final decree declaring the right of resignation, which he promptly exercised on December 13, 1294, after five months and eight days in office. In the formal instrument of renunciation, he recited as the causes moving him to the step: “The desire for humility, for a purer life, for a stainless conscience, the deficiencies of his own physical strength, his ignorance, the perverseness of the people, his longing for the tranquility of his former life”. Having divested himself of every outward symbol of papal dignity, he slipped away from Naples and attempted to retire to his old life of solitude.” ~Wikipedia, Pope Celestine V.

Today’s Gifts from Semicolon:
A song: When It’s Christmas in Texas, sung by George Strait.

A birthday: Dick van Dyke, b.1925
Christopher Plummer, b.1929
Taylor Swift, b.1989

A movie: Well, if you’re fan of Dick van Dyke, you can watch Mary Poppins, or if you prefer Christopher Plummer, you can pull out The Sound of Music. Either one would make for a great family movie time.

A book list: Kimbofo at Reading Matters is hosting A Book Bloggers’ Advent Calendar with one reading suggestion from her readers for each day of December leading up to Christmas. She’s collected lots of good reading recommendations for your 2014 TBR list.

A verse: Merry Literary Christmas by Alice Low at Becky’s Book Reviews.

The 12th Gift of Christmas in England, 1647

“Forasmuch as the feast of the nativity of Christ, Easter, Whitsuntide, and other festivals, commonly called holy-days, have been heretofore superstitiously used and observed; be it ordained, that the said feasts, and all other festivals, commonly called holy-days, be no longer observed as festivals; any law, statute, custom, constitution, or canon, to the contrary in anywise not withstanding.”
Puritan legislation in the British Parliament, abolishing the festival celebration of Christmas and other holidays (June 1647); as quoted in The History of the Puritans (1837) by Daniel Neal.

Today’s Gifts:
A song: Handel’s (and Charles Jennens’) Messiah.

A birthday: Gustave Flaubert, b.1821, Tracy Kidder, b.1925,

A poem: Christmas Greeting by Lewis Carroll.

Lady, dear, if Fairies may
For a moment lay aside
Cunning tricks and elfish play,
‘Tis at happy Christmas-tide.

We have heard the children say –
Gentle children, whom we love –
Long ago on Christmas Day,
Came a message from above,

Still, as Christmas-tide comes round,
They remember it again –
Echo still the joyful sound
“Peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Yet the hearts must childlike be
Where such heavenly guests abide;
Unto children, in their glee,
All the year is Christmas-tide!

Thus, forgetting tricks and play
For a moment, Lady dear,
We would wish you, if we may,
Merry Christmas, Glad New Year!

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 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.