Dec. 25, 2001

A Christmas Carol

by G. K. Chesterton

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Poem: "A Christmas Carol," by G.K. Chesterton.

A Christmas Carol

The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
    His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
    But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast,
    His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
    But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
    His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
    But here the world's desire.)

The Christ-child stood at Mary's knee,
    His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at him,
    And all the stars looked down.

Today is Christmas Day, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Most historians date the first Christmas celebration to Rome in 336 A.D. In America, many stores make up to 70 percent of their annual revenue in the month preceding Christmas. Christmas didn't become a major event here until the 1860s.

It's the birthday of anthropologist and novelist Carlos Castaneda, born in São Paulo, Brazil (1931), whose life and death were as mysterious as his writings. Although Castaneda said he was born in Brazil, records show he was born in Peru. For his graduate thesis, he wrote a supposedly true account of his meetings with a Yaqui Indian sorcerer named Don Juan Matus in Arizona in the early 1960s. The thesis was published in 1968 as The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge.

It's the birthday of writer and producer Rod Serling, born in Syracuse, New York (1924), who immersed himself at a young age in such books and movies as Astounding Stories and Weird Tales. He founded the series, The Twilight Zone, and wrote 92 of the one 156 episodes.

It's the birthday of feminist, novelist, biographer, and literary critic Rebecca West, born in London (1892). Her first novel was The Return of the Soldier. It took a decidedly feminist point of view, as did her other novels, The Judge (1922), and Harriet Hume (1929). She also explored political themes in such books as Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1942), a study of the culture and politics of Yugoslavia.

It's the birthday of scientist and inventor Isaac Newton, born in Lincolnshire, England (1642). He is one of the most influential thinkers in human history. His accomplishments in science, mathematics, and physics laid the foundations for modern science and revolutionized the world. Newton was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and it was there that he produced the bulk of his work in mathematics and invented integral calculus, although he didn't publish his ideas on this subject for 35 years. In the meantime, however, he invented the reflecting telescope, discovered that white light is composed of all the colors of the spectrum, discovered the laws of universal gravitation, and was the first person to explain the tides. He explained that the earth attracts the moon, but because the moon also pulls at the earth, they stay together. The moon's pull on the earth also causes the oceans to bulge, which produces tides. The most famous anecdote about Newton, which may or may not be true, is that he was sitting under a tree when he was hit in the head by an apple, which inspired him to define the law of universal gravitation, that the "force between any two bodies is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them." In 1687, he published the Principia, which included his three famous laws of motion. The first law, also called the Law of Inertia, says that a body in motion tends to stay in motion, and a body at rest tends to stay at rest, unless the body is acted upon by an outside force. The second law states that acceleration equals force divided by mass, meaning that acceleration is produced when a force acts on a mass; the heavier the object, the more force it takes to move it. The third law states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. In 1705 Newton became the first scientist to be knighted by the Queen. He died in 1727, when he was 85, and became the first scientist to be buried in Westminster Abby. He said: "If I have been able to see further, it was only because I stood on the shoulders of giants."

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