When everyone had gone
I sat in the library
With the small silent tree,
She and I alone.
How softly she shone!
And for the first time then
For the first time this year,
I felt reborn again,
I knew love’s presence near.
Love distant, love detached
And strangely without weight,
Was with me in the night
When everyone had gone
And the garland of pure light
Stayed on, stayed on.
“Christmas Light” by May Sarton from Collected Poems. © Norton, 1993. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
Today is Christmas Day, the day that Western Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Christ Mass was first celebrated on December 25th in the year 336. Constantine was the first Roman emperor who professed to be a Christian, and he is the first to mark the holiday. There are a few theories about why this date was chosen. The Annunciation — which is the Angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she had been chosen to bear Jesus, the Son of God — was traditionally celebrated at the spring equinox, around March 25.
For the first few centuries of Christianity, there was great resistance to observing the birth of Jesus Christ, or indeed any saint. Early Christians believed that birthdays should be mourned, not celebrated, because that is the day that people are born into their lives of suffering. Instead, Christians celebrated the day that a saint was martyred, because that was the day of their true birth into the spiritual realm. So people celebrated the Epiphany—the baptism of Jesus—and Easter — his death and resurrection — instead.
It’s the birthday of English poet and diarist Dorothy Wordsworth (1771) (books by this author), born in Cockermouth, Cumberland. Dorothy was the sister of poet William Wordsworth. For a long time, many dismissed Dorothy as simply her brother’s handmaid — she diligently wrote out his poems — but she wrote every day in her diary. William cribbed some of his most famous lines for poems like “I Wandered lonely as a Cloud” from his sister’s meticulous journals.
Dorothy Wordsworth’s parents died when she was s child, and she and William were sent to live with various relatives. Dorothy was always sensitive. The first time she saw the sea as a little girl, she burst into tears. When she and William were finally reunited, they never left each other, not for the rest of their lives.
“I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing.”
It’s the birthday of writer and producer Rod Serling (1925), best known for creating the popular television series The Twilight Zone (1959–1964), which examined human nature through the guise of science fiction and fantasy. The show became famous for its unexpected plot twists. In one episode, a GI can see which of his platoon leaders will be the next to die. In another, a malevolent doll named “Talky Tina” becomes the bane of a jealous stepfather.
Serling was the son of a grocer and grew up in Syracuse, New York. He was a chatty child and once, during a two-hour car drive, his mother, father, and brother decided to stay silent to see if Serling would notice. He didn’t; he spoke nonstop for the entire ride.
It’s the birthday of Clara Barton, born in Oxford, Massachusetts, in 1821. She was working in Washington, D.C., when the Civil War broke out, and she began tending to wounded soldiers. She was afraid that soldiers would lose too much blood if they were brought to a hospital, so she started the practice of treating the wounded at the battlefield. Eventually, she went on to found the American Red Cross.