Dec. 24, 2001

This Holy Night

by Eleanor Farjeon


Tonight is Christmas Eve, celebrated around the world in a combination of religious and cultural festivities. In Germany, where the Christmas tree originated, Father Christmas brings presents in the late afternoon of the 24th, after people have been to church. The Finns believe that Father Christmas lives in the northern part of their country, and have constructed a theme park called "Christmas Land" near the place they say he calls home. In Portugal, a special midnight meal is prepared, consisting of salted dry codfish with boiled potatoes. In America, Christmas Eve is celebrated every which way, but often includes going to church, decorating the tree, gathering the family, singing Christmas carols, and hanging stockings from the fireplace in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon will be there.

It's the birthday of dancer and choreographer Robert Joffrey, born in Seattle, Washington (1930), whose name at birth was Abdullah Jaffa Bey Khan. His father was Afghani, and his mother was Italian. Joffrey began to study dance in Seattle and, in 1948, moved to New York City to study ballet. Joffrey taught at the New York High School for the Performing Arts, and formed his own school, the American Ballet Center, in 1953. One year later, he formed his own company, the Robert Joffrey Ballet Concert, which later became known as the Joffrey Ballet.

It's the birthday of suspense novelist Mary Higgins Clark, born in New York City (1929). Her father died when she was 10 years old, and her mother struggled to make ends meet. When Higgins graduated high school, she also worked several jobs to help support the family. She sold her first story to Extension Magazine for $100. After the death of her husband in 1964, which left her with five young children to support, Clark began writing scripts for radio shows, and began to work on novels. She wrote every morning from five to seven, and then got the kids ready for school. Her first book was a biographical novel about the life of George Washington, Aspire to Heaven (1969). It did not sell well, but it proved to her that she could write a book. She wrote her first suspense novel, Where Are the Children, in 1975. It was a bestseller, as were her next five books. Clark continued her success with such bestsellers as A Stranger is Watching (1982) and The Cradle Will Fall (1987). Her latest work is He Sees You When You're Sleeping (November, 2001), written with her daughter, Carol Higgins Clark.

It's the birthday of journalist I.F. Stone, born in Philadelphia (1907). In 1953, he began publishing a newsletter, called I. F. Stone's Weekly (which eventually became I. F. Stone's Bi-Weekly), for which he had 5,300 subscribers, including Eleanor Roosevelt and Albert Einstein.

It's the birthday of sculptor, filmmaker, and writer Joseph Cornell, born in Nyack, New York (1903). When he lost his job in 1931, he began visiting art galleries and discovered the collages of artists like Max Ernst. Cornell began experimenting with his own art and became acquainted with many Surrealist artists, including Marcel Duchamp. Cornell began to fill shadow boxes with found objects, as well as his own mementos, such as fan letters to movie stars or ballet dancers he'd never met. One of his boxes, for instance, includes four cylindrical weights, an egg in a wine glass, a cast of a child's head, a clay pipe, and a map of the moon.

It's the birthday of poet and essayist Matthew Arnold, born in Laleham on the Thames, England (1822), who is considered by many to be the most important literary critic of his time. In 1853 he published a collection called Poems, under his own name, which included some criticisms and an admonishment that good poetry must include "clearness of arrangement, rigor of development, [and] simplicity of style."

It's the birthday of poet George Crabbe, born in Suffolk, England (1754), who became known for his realistic descriptions of everyday life.

In 1871 on this day, Verdi's opera Aida premiered in Egypt. It was a stunning success; thousands of opera lovers traveled from Europe to attend the performances. The conductor, Giovanni Bottesini, personally financed a menagerie of animals for the Triumphal March in Act Two, including 12 elephants, 12 zebras, 15 camels, six ostriches, three lions, two giraffes, and numerous jackals, baboons, and rodents.

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




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