Dec. 25, 2005
Poem: Excerpt of "Christmas" by George Herbert. Public Domain.
The shepherds sing; and shall I silent be?
My God, No hymn for thee?
My soul's a shepherd too: a flock it feeds
Of thoughts, and words, and deeds.
The pasture is thy word; the streams, thy grace
Enriching all the place.
Shepherd and flock shall sing, and all my powers
Out-sing the daylight hours.
Then we sill chide the sun for letting night
Take up his place and right:
We will sing one common Lord; wherefore he should
Himself the candle hold.
I will go searching, till I find a sun
Shall stay, till we have done;
A willing shiner that shall shine as gladly,
As frost-nipped suns look sadly,
Then we will sing, and shine all our own day,
And one another pay:
His beams shall cheer my breast, and both so twine,
Till ev'n his beams sing, and my music shine.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of scientist and physicist Sir Isaac Newton, born in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, England (1642). He attended Cambridge University from 1661 to 1665. In less than two years, he had mastered all the math that his teachers could teach him, and so he began to work on his own mathematical problems. And so it was while he was still a college undergraduate that he invented differential calculus, a new way of analyzing curved shapes.
As a professor of mathematics, Newton made discoveries about the nature of light and color, and he developed a more advance telescope. But then he began to think about why planets travel in orbits around the sun, and why they never stopped. Those questions resulted in his laws of thermodynamics: that an object in motion tends to stay in motion, an object at rest tends to stay at rest, and that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
Newton published his findings on motion and gravity in a book called Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687).
Newton said, "I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore... whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."
Hanukkah begins tonight at sundown. It's also called the Feast of Lights, a celebration of the reclaiming of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem in 168 BC.
Today is Christmas Day, celebrated by Christians since the 4th century AD. Early Christians believed that the only important holiday of the year was Easter, but in the 4th 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.
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.
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.
It was only in the mid 19th century that Christmas became a domestic holiday associated with family. 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. Eventually it became more fashionable to stay at home with family than to go out to big parties.
One practice that endures from pagan traditions is the singing of carols. The word "carol" comes from the Greek "choros," which is a circular dance accompanied by singing, usually to celebrate fertility. After most Europeans became Christians, they began to write and perform folk songs at Christmas time to express their joy at baby Jesus' birth.
But the church often discouraged the singing of carols because they were considered too secular, and the practice of caroling almost died out under church pressure. When Christmas became a more domestic holiday in the mid-1800s, there was a carol renaissance, and many of the most popular carols were written in that period, including, "Away in a Manger," "O Little Town of Bethlehem", and "Silent Night" written in Austria in 1818.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®