Dec. 26, 2001

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

by Robert Frost


Poem: "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening," by Robert Frost from The Poetry of Robert Frost (Holt, Reinehart and Winston).

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Today is the first day of Kwanzaa, an African-American cultural holiday conceived and developed by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966. Kwanzaa, which means "first fruits of the harvest" in Swahili, is celebrated over seven days, from December 26 to January 1.

Today is both Boxing Day and Saint Stephen's Day. Boxing Day, a national holiday in England, Canada, and several other countries, might have started from an old tradition of collecting Christmas offerings in boxes placed in every church. On the day after Christmas, the boxes were emptied and their contents distributed to the poor. Another tradition is that of giving gifts to servants. Since servants were required to work on Christmas to make the holiday run smoothly for their masters, they were allowed to take off the day after Christmas to visit their families. They were also given boxes containing small gifts and monetary bonuses. It is still the custom to give money to people who provide service, such as the postman or dustman. December 26 is also Saint Stephen's Day. Saint Stephen was the first Christian martyr, stoned to death for blasphemy.

It's the birthday of writer and playwright Lonne Elder, born in Americus, Georgia (1931). In the mid-1950s, he studied acting and worked in summer stock, then made his Broadway debut in 1959 as Bobo in the original production of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun. At the same time, Elder began writing poems and short stories, and eventually turned to playwriting. In 1967, Elder became the head of the playwriting unit of the newly formed Negro Ensemble Company, and in 1969, his most famous play, Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, was produced.

It's the birthday of author Henry Miller, born in New York City, (1891). In 1930 he moved to Paris, where he stayed for the next nine years. It was during this period that he wrote Tropic of Cancer, published in 1934. Based on his own Parisian experiences, it included graphic love scenes and was immediately banned in the United States and Britain. Miller wrote about his life in New York in Tropic of Capricorn, published in 1939. It wasn't until 1964 that the Supreme Court voted that Tropic of Cancer could not be constitutionally suppressed. By then, many millions of copies of his work had been sold.

It's the birthday of inventor and mathematician Charles Babbage, born in London (1792). Around 1813, Babbage was studying celestial tables used by sailors for navigation. He was frustrated by the number of simple mathematical mistakes and printers' errors that he found. He began to think that if he could develop a machine that could produce these tables, he could eliminate the human errors. He first made a small calculator that could perform mathematical computations up to eight decimals. He then had an idea for a machine that would not only calculate functions, but print out the results as well. He began work on what he called the Difference Engine, a more sophisticated calculator with a 20-decimal capacity. He was backed by the British government, but the machine was never completed, mainly because Babbage kept revising his plans and ideas. Finally, Babbage came up with the idea for a different kind of machine, called the Analytical Engine, which was actually the forerunner of the modern digital computer. Babbage made notable contributions in many other areas as well. He helped to establish the modern postal system in England, compiled the first reliable actuarial tables, created the speedometer, and invented the locomotive cowcatcher.

It's the birthday of poet and scholar Thomas Gray, born in London (1716). He wrote all his life, but was never satisfied; he constantly edited and rewrote his works. He had no desire to publish his poems or to gain fame; he thought of himself as a gentleman who wrote poetry rather than as a poet. However, a poem he wrote in 1751 did gain him fame. It was An Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard.

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