Music I love—but never strain
Could kindle raptures so divine,
So grief assuage, so conquer pain,
And rouse this pensive heart of mine—
As that we hear on Christmas morn,
Upon the wintry breezes borne.
Though Darkness still her empire keep,
And hours must pass, ere morning break;
From troubled dreams, or slumbers deep,
That music kindly bids us wake:
It calls us, with an angel’s voice,
To wake, and worship, and rejoice;
To greet with joy the glorious morn,
Which angels welcomed long ago,
When our redeeming Lord was born,
To bring the light of Heaven below;
The Powers of Darkness to dispel,
And rescue Earth from Death and Hell.
Now holy Peace may smile from heaven,
And heavenly Truth from earth shall spring:
The captive’s galling bonds are riven,
For our Redeemer is our king;
And He that gave his blood for men
Will lead us home to God again.
“Music on Christmas Morning" by Anne Bronte. Public Domain. (buy now)
Today is Christmas Day.
It was on this day in 1776 that George Washington led the Continental Army across the Delaware River in a surprise attack on Hessian mercenaries. Over the past several months, the Continental Army had suffered several defeats and no significant victories, and morale was low. Men were sick, wounded, and dressed in rags even in the cold of winter. They were deserting at high rates, and the replacements were poorly trained. Washington knew that a victory was necessary in order to restore the faith of both soldiers and regular Americans. He also knew that a surprise attack was probably necessary in order to defeat the Hessians. The Hessians were German mercenaries hired by the British army — they made up about a quarter of the British forces, and they were skilled, effective soldiers.
Washington planned the attack in secret. The weather was terrible: snow, sleet, and gale-force winds. Washington decided the weather would work in their favor, because no one would imagine that the Continental Army would attack during a blizzard. A few hours before attempting the mission, Washington read aloud to his soldiers from Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis. The army was divided into three groups to cross the Delaware, each with a different destination point around Trenton; Washington led one group and put commanders in charge of the other two groups.
The river was moving quickly, carrying huge chunks of ice, and they were traveling through a blinding snowstorm. Throughout Christmas night, a couple of thousand men, 18 cannons, and some horses crossed the river in small boats. Only Washington’s group persevered through the brutal weather — the other two commanders turned their troops around. Then they marched 10 miles to Trenton, many of the soldiers with frostbitten feet. Early in the morning on December 26th, the Continental Army attacked Trenton, surprising the unprepared and hungover Hessians. They took 1,000 captives, and then retreated to Pennsylvania with the prisoners. The victory didn’t do much for Washington’s strategic position, but it restored everyone’s faith in the Continental Army’s abilities.
It’s the birthday of scientist and physicist Sir Isaac Newton, born in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, England (1642). As a professor of mathematics, Newton made discoveries about the nature of light and color, and he developed a more advanced 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 motion: 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 said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
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.
It’s the birthday of Rod Serling, born in Syracuse, New York (1924), best known as the creator, writer and producer of the television series The Twilight Zone, which first aired in 1959. Serling believed it was the writer’s job to “menace the public consciousness” and considered television and radio a means for social criticism.
And it was on this day in 1968, the crew of the Apollo 8 spacecraft returned to a course for Earth after orbiting the moon 10 times over 20 hours. They were the first humans to ever leave our planet’s orbit, and the first to ever see the Earth as an entire planet. On Christmas Eve, the crew had taken the iconic “Earth rise” picture and read the first 10 verses from the book of Genesis over a live television broadcast. When Commander Frank Borman signed off, he said: “We close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless you all — all of you on the good Earth.”