Dec. 24, 1999

The Wind in the Willows, a carol from

by Kenneth Grahame

Broadcast Date: FRIDAY: December 24, 1999

Poem: "Carol" from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham.

It’s the birthday of Victorian poet and critic Matthew Arnold, born in Laleham on the Thames, England (1822). He was professor of poetry at Oxford, inspector of schools in England for many years, and author of the famous poem, "Dover Beach."

On this day in 1871, Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Aida had its first performance, in Cairo, Egypt. It had been commissioned by the local ‘Khedive’[kuh-DEEV]—who ruled Egypt as viceroy for the Sultan of Turkey—to inaugurate the city’s new opera house, built to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal.

It’s the birthday of cartoonist and author (John Barton) ‘Johnny’ Gruelle [grew-ELL], born in Arcola, Illinois (1880)—who created the Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy series based on a rag doll his daughter Marcella had found in the family attic.

On Christmas Eve in 1906, the first radio program was broadcast. Canadian-born Professor Reginald Aubrey Fessenden sent his signals from the 420-foot radio tower of the National Electric Signal Company, at Brant Rock on the Massachusetts seacoast. Fessenden opened the program by playing "O Holy Night" on the violin. Later he recited verses from the Gospel of St. Luke, then broadcast a gramophone version of Handel’s "Largo." His signal was received up to 5 miles away.

Today is Christmas Eve, once called the Vigil of Christmas—in religious terms, the culmination of the pre-Christmas Advent season, which began 4 weeks ago. Many denominations have midnight services: a ‘communion service’ for Episcopalians; a ‘vigil’ for Eastern Orthodox churches; and the Catholic midnight mass—which in former times was called, in Latin, a missa in nocte [MEE-sah in NOKE-tay], or "mass at night." (This mass is the first of 3 Christmas masses priests are permitted to say, and is—or used to be, in more formal days—a resplendent service, with the celebrant arrayed in white and gold vestments.) The timing of midnight services reflects the belief that Jesus was born near that hour. Protestants sometimes celebrate Christmas Eve at midnight, but more often hold a vesper service earlier in the evening. Evergreen and poinsettias typically decorate churches; candles are lit; excerpts from Frederick Handel’s Messiah are performed; Christmas carols are sung; and often a re-enactment of the Nativity story is presented— with young children playing some or all of the holy family, shepherds, livestock, and Wise Men bearing gifts. In many European countries, Christmas Eve is the main focus of the holiday season, and includes the opening of gifts. In Denmark, a bowl of rice and milk is often left out to appease the Christmas gnome—a tiny bearded old-timer wearing gray, with a red pointed cap, who lives in the attic and decides which residents should be awarded good or bad luck. In France and Italy, setting out a family crèche [cresh] or presepio [pray- SAPE-yoh]—a manger scene complete with angels, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, farmyard animals, and shepherds—is a traditional Christmas Eve event. The French often follow midnight mass with a ‘reveillon’ [reh-vay-OH], or late supper.

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




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook

The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »