Dec. 25, 2003
Inviting a Friend to Supper
Poem: "Inviting a Friend to Supper," by Ben Jonson
Tonight, grave sir, both my poor house and I
Do equally desire your company;
Not that we think us worthy such a guest,
But that your worth will dignify our feast
With those that come; whose grace may make that seem
Something, which else could hope for no esteem.
It is the fair acceptance, sir, creates
The entertainment perfect, not the cates.
Yet shall you have, to rectify your palate,
An olive, capers, or some better salad
Ushering the mutton; with a short-legged hen,
If we can get her, full of eggs, and then
Lemons, and wine for sauce; to these, a coney
Is not to be despaired of, for our money;
And though fowl now be scarce, yet there are clerks,
The sky not falling, think we may have larks.
I'll tell you of more, and lie, so you will come:
Of partridge, pheasant, woodcock, of which some
May yet be there; and godwit, if we can;
Knat, rail and ruff, too. Howsoe'er, my man
Shall read a piece of Virgil, Tacitus,
Livy, or of some better book to us,
Of which we'll speak our minds, amidst our meat;
And I'll profess no verses to repeat;
To this, if aught appear which I not know of,
That will the pastry, not my paper, show of.
Digestive cheese and fruit there sure will be;
But that which most doth take my muse and me
Is a pure cup of rich Canary wine,
Which is the Mermaid's now, but shall be mine;
Of which had Horace or Anacreon tasted,
Their lives, as do their lines, till now had lasted.
Tobacco, nectar, or the Thespian spring
Are all but Luther's beer to this I sing.
Of this we will sup free, but moderately;
And we will have no Poley or Parrot by;
Nor shall our cups make any guilty men,
But at our parting we will be as when
We innocently met. No simple word
That shall be uttered at our mirthful board
Shall make us sad next morning, or affright
The liberty that we'll enjoy tonight.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of mathematician Sir Isaac Newton, born in Woolsthorpe, England (1642). One of the most important scientists of all time, he established the laws of motion, he developed the first theory of gravity, and he invented calculus..
Today is Christmas Day. About 96 percent of Americans say that they celebrate Christmas in one way or another; but Christians didn't start celebrating Christmas until the fourth century AD. Early Christians believed that the only important holiday of the year was Easter, but in the fourth century, a heretical Christian sect started claiming that Jesus had only been a spirit, and had never had a body. The Church decided to emphasize Jesus' bodily humanity by celebrating his birth.
The most familiar story of his birth comes from the Gospel of Luke, which says that Mary and Joseph went to the city of Bethlehem because of the Roman census. The Gospel says, "And so it was, that, while they were there . . . [Mary] brought forth her first born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn."
This story of Jesus, the only son of God, beginning life in a stable surrounded by farm animals, has always been extremely popular. In 1224, St. Francis of Assisi decided that the members of his parish should see this story acted out. He set up the first Nativity scene with the baby Jesus in the manger and the animals standing by. The practice was so popular that it spread from village to village until it became a Christmas ritual all across Europe.
Most Christian theologians believe that Jesus was actually born in the spring, because the scripture mentions shepherds letting their animals roam in the fields at night. The Christian church probably chose December 25th as the official birth date because of competition with pagan cults, who celebrated the winter solstice on that date. Pagans had used evergreen branches during their winter solstice ceremonies to celebrate the endless fertility of nature. Christians used evergreens as symbols of the everlasting life that Jesus offered.
The problem with combining Christian and pagan traditions was that the winter solstice had traditionally been a time of drunken feasting and revelry, and many Christmas celebrations became similarly festive. Many preachers began to speak out against the celebration of Christmas, and after the Protestant Reformation, Puritans outlawed Christmas altogether. One preacher said, "[Christmas is just] a pretense for drunkenness and rioting and wantonness."
It was only in the mid 19th century that Christmas became the domestic holiday we know it as today. The transformation was due in part to government crackdowns on wild street parties. In 1828, New York City organized its first professional police force in response to a violent Christmas riot. Popular works of literature also helped reinvent the holiday, works like the poem "The Night Before Christmas" (1823) and Charles Dickens's novel A Christmas Carol (1843).
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote:
I heard the bells, on Christmas Day,
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And Irving Berlin wrote:
I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know.
Where the treetops glisten,
And children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.
I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write.
May your days be merry and bright.
And may all your Christmases be white.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®