Dec. 26, 1999

Saving the Songs

by Virginia Hamilton Adair

Broadcast Date: SUNDAY: December 26, 1999

Poem: "Saving the Songs" by Virginia Hamilton Adair from Beliefs and Blasphemies published by Random House.

The 26th of December is known as St. Stephen’s Day, in honor of the first Christian martyr (killed in 34 AD).

In England this date is called Boxing Day, with offerings for the poor collected in church boxes. Gratuities are given to the postman or gardener or cleaning lady for services rendered the previous year, and children go begging from door to door, as on Halloween in America.

It’s ‘Wren Day’ in Ireland: ‘wren-boys’ go from house to house, carrying a holly bush adorned with ribbons and figures of birds, and singing: The wren, the wren, the king of all birds, St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze, Although he is little, his family’s great, I pray you, good landlady, give us a treat.

Today is the first day of Kwanzaa (Swahili for "first fruits"), a 7-day African American holiday created in the 1960s as a harvest festival—a time to re-establish links to the community and to an African past.

In the Bahamas, this date is known as ‘Junkanoo’—a festival combining Mardi Gras and African rituals, with parades featuring cowbells, goatskin drums, and other homemade instruments—and dancers in elaborate costumes made of crepe paper and gessoed [JESS-ode] cardboard.

It’s the birthday of black playwright Lonne [LONN-ee] Elder the 3rd, born in Americus, Georgia (1931), author of Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, first produced in 1969.

On this day in 1913, journalist Ambrose Bierce (known as ‘Bitter Bierce’ for his misanthropic wit), wrote his last known letter, then disappeared forever. Traveling with the army of Mexican rebel Pancho Villa, Bierce most likely was killed during the Siege of Ojinaga [oh-hee-NAH-gah], on the border between Chihuahua [chi-WAH-wah] and the West Texas Panhandle, in January of 1914. Some entries from The Devil’s Dictionary, his compendium of epigrams and acerbic poems: Bore, n. A person who talks when you wish him to listen. Historian, n. A broad-gauge gossip. Lawyer, n. One skilled in circumvention of the law.

It’s the birthday of poet and novelist Jean Toomer, born in Washington, D.C. (1894)—a major talent of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s.

It’s the birthday of novelist Henry (Valentine) Miller, born in the Yorkville section of Manhattan (1891). After attending City College for 6 weeks, he dropped out to work in a cement company. Soon he was married, then had a child, then was divorced and was well on his way toward his goal, which he described as a "roving cultural desperado." He moved to Paris, cadged a meager living, wrote his autobiographical Tropic of Cancer on the backs of earlier manuscripts—and, in late middle age, was recognized as a serious literary artist. Because of their sexual frankness, his major works were banned in America until 1964, when the Supreme Court, by a 5-to-4 vote, decided Tropic of Cancer could no longer be suppressed.

On this day in 1606, William Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear was first performed at court, presented to England’s King James the First.

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