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Chaos in the NFL...our annual Christmas Special
[Posted Sunday p.m.]
***No Bar Chat on Dec. 27. Next one Dec. 31. I’ll throw up some small stuff in between.
Update: 12/26....just a few items.
NFL Playoff Picture
As we head into the final weekend....
1. Kansas City (11-4)
2. New England 10-5)
3. Houston Texans (10-5)
4. Baltimore (9-6)
5. Los Angeles Chargers (11-4)...need to beat Denver and hope Chiefs lose to Raiders to steal home field.
6. Indianapolis (9-6)...faces Tennessee for the wild card.
7. Tennessee (9-6)
8. Pittsburgh (8-6-1)...need to beat Cincinnati and then hope Browns upset Ravens to take AFC North crown.
1. New Orleans (13-2)...doming the rest of the way as No. 1 seed
2. Los Angeles Rams (12-3)
3. Chicago (11-4)
4. Dallas (9-6)
5. Seattle (9-6)...in
6. Minnesota (8-6-1)...beat Chicago and they’re in
7. Philadelphia (8-7)...only in if they beat Washington, and Chicago beats Minnesota
College Basketball...AP Poll (12/24)
1. Duke (35) 11-1
2. Michigan (9) 12-0
3. Tennessee (12) 10-1
4. Virginia (4) 11-0
5. Kansas (4) 10-1
6. Nevada 12-0
7. Gonzaga 11-2
8. Michigan State 10-2
9. Florida State 11-1
10. Virginia Tech 10-1
20. North Carolina State 11-1
21. Buffalo 11-1
Conference play doesn’t begin in earnest until after the first of the year...minimal big matchups until then.
--I didn’t catch much of the Christmas Day / NBA action, save for the second half of the Celtics’ 121-114 win over the 76ers in OT, a pretty entertaining affair as Kyrie Irving led the way for Boston with 40 points and 10 rebounds, coming up big in the clutch.
And then in the next contest, a surprisingly easy 121-101 win by the Lakers against the Warriors in Oakland, LeBron James exited with a groin injury, having scored 17 points, with 13 rebounds, in just 21 minutes. No word yet on the seriousness of the injury, the extent of which we’ll learn later today. The Warriors were just 9 of 36 from downtown.
Golden State is having a very unWarrior-like campaign. They started the season 10-1, but have gone just 13-11 since. Granted, they were 5-6 in the games Steph Curry sat out with his latest injury, but the big four was on the floor for them last night and it didn’t matter.
The Lakers, on the other hand, have been playing much better after a 2-5 start, 18-9 since to get to 20-14.
MLB Quiz: I’m borrowing this one from the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner. Which two National League teams have never had a player win the MVP Award? Answer below.
--Two important games Saturday...
Tennessee stayed in the wildcard hunt at 9-6 with a 25-16 win over Washington (7-8), virtually eliminating the Redskins...and then Sunday they were. Washington was up 16-12 with 8:09 to play in the fourth, but after Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota was knocked out in the first half, the Titans rallied behind Blaine Gabbert, the game ending on a Malcolm Butler interception return for a TD.
But Tennessee’s hopes then suffered a blow (not fatal) as in the second game, Baltimore put on a defensive show, defeating the Chargers in Los Angeles, 22-10, holding L.A. to just 198 yards of offense, quarterback Philip Rivers only 23/37, 181, 0-2, 51.7.
For the Ravens, Lamar Jackson showed just how great he can be with a little more seasoning, 204 yards through the air, 39 rushing, while Rutgers’ Gus Edwards once again was solid, 14 carries for 92 yards.
So the Chargers fall to 11-4, while the Ravens remain in the sixth and final playoff spot at 9-6. That was as of Saturday’s play.
--Indianapolis stayed alive at 9-6 with a last-minute 28-27 win over the Giants (5-10), the Colts and Andrew Luck driving for the win, after trailing by 14 early, and 24-14 late in the third.
So the Colts need to beat Tennessee next Sunday, while hoping the Texans lose to the Jaguars.
For the Giants, Saquon Barkley was held in check a second straight game...just 43 yards on 21 carries.
--Dallas clinched its third NFC East title in five years, 27-20 over Tampa Bay (5-10), the Cowboys 9-6. The Bucs actually held Dallas to just 232 yards of offense, but the Cowboys had a key 69-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown.
--The Eagles (8-7) then stayed in the wildcard hunt with a 32-30 win over the Texans (10-5), Nick Foles once again to the rescue, 35/49, 471, 4-1, 120.4.
--But the Vikings are in the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC with a 27-9 win over the Lions (5-10), Kirk Cousins with three touchdown passes.
So next week it’s the Vikings hosting the Bears, and the Eagles at the Redskins, who will have zero to play for.
--The Bears had a tougher-than-expected 14-9 at San Francisco (4-11) to go to 11-4 and clinch the No. 3 playoff spot in the NFC, so we’ll get an outdoor playoff game at least, hopefully with snow falling heavily, 10 degrees.
--The Los Angeles Rams and Jared Goff got their offense back in gear, 31-9 winners over the Cardinals (3-12), L.A. improving to 12-3.
--So then it came down New Orleans and Pittsburgh...and in a terrific contest, Drew Brees and the Saints pulled it out with a touchdown in the final two minutes, the Steelers then coughing it up after a reception that would have given them a shot at a game-tying field goal, 31-28.
So New Orleans clinches the No. 1 seed, and a dome the rest of the way, while the Steelers need to beat the Bengals at home next week, and have the Browns upset the Ravens on the road.
--The Patriots beat the Bills 24-12 to clinch the AFC East title for a 49th straight year (make that ten), New England 10-5, even though Tom Brady sucked, as he continues to show the world he is now 41 years of age, 13/24, 126, 1-2, 48.3.
Granted, he was without troubled wide receiver Josh Gordon. Gordon seemingly had his act together with New England this season, but then Thursday morning he said he was leaving the team, a few hours before the NFL announced that he had been suspended indefinitely for violating the terms of his conditional reinstatement under the sport’s substance abuse policy. The league did not provide further details.
Gordon missed all of the 2015 and 2016 seasons because of suspensions related to substance abuse before he was conditionally reinstated during the 2017 season.
Gordon tweeted, “I take my mental health very seriously at this point to ensure I remain able to perform at the highest level.” He then thanked Bill Belichick, Bob Kraft, and the Pats organization.
Back in 2013, the immensely talented receiver led the NFL in receiving yards with 1,646 for Cleveland, but he was suspended repeatedly under the substance abuse policy and, before this fall, he had appeared in only 10 regular season NFL games since 2013.
With New England, he had 40 catches for a team-high 720 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games.
--Us Jets fans got to watch a highly-entertaining, albeit immensely frustrating (and meaningless) game today, as New York fell to 4-11, 44-38 losers to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers (6-8-1) in overtime; Rodgers rallying Green Bay from a 35-20 fourth-quarter deficit to three scores, OT, and then the win.
Rodgers ended up with 442 yards through the air and two touchdowns, with another two rushing for the first time since 2011.
For the Jets, Sam Darnold continued his maturation, 24/35, 341, 3-0, 128.9, but New York committed 16 penalties for a franchise-record 172 yards! Good lord!
Well, as Tony Soprano would have said, ‘Whaddya gonna do?’ We suck. We need a new coach. But we have some talent so at Christmastime we pray for the best....and Jets fans now look forward to spring training and the Mets. [cough cough]
--While it was meaningless save for Cleveland, we note the Browns’ 26-18 win over the Bengals (6-9), Baker Mayfield’s three touchdown passes bringing his team to .500. ....7-7-1. Helluva an accomplishment. There is more than hope in Cleveland. And now a biggee in Baltimore.
--Very proud of my Wake Forest Demon Deacons, who had a stirring, come from behind 37-34 win over Memphis (8-6) in Birmingham on Saturday. I said this was a good matchup, on paper, and it proved to be. While Memphis was without star Darrell Henderson, who sat out to prepare for the draft, Wake was playing without its All-American, all-everything Greg Dortch, out with a finger injury.
Redshirt sophomore Jamie Newman, in his fourth career start, was super...22 of 40 for 328 yards and a touchdown, plus another 91 and three touchdowns on the ground.
Senior receiver Alex Bachman picked a great time for the best game of his career, seven receptions for 171 yards. He definitely deserves an NFL training camp invite...a late bloomer and classic possession receiver.
But here is what coach Dave Clawson has done. After back-to-back 3-9 campaigns his first two years.
Three straight bowl wins as well for the first time in school history. Wake fans have realistic expectations when it comes to football (as opposed to basketball, discussed below). I’ll take 7-6 every year until I die.
Clawson said after:
“I’m just so proud of our football team and our players.
“The way that we build our program is we try to get guys that love football, that are committed to graduating and that are high-character guys. It’s that formula that allows us to survive tough times, whether it’s 3-9 seasons or losing by 60 points.” [Clemson beat us 63-3 this year.]
--Meanwhile, also on Saturday, Army completed an historic season, 11-2, its first 11-win season, ever, with a 70-14 win over Houston (8-5). The Black Knights, No. 22 AP coming in, but unranked in the CFP, showed the Selection Committee just what a farce that was. Army has an outside shot at moving up to No. 17 or so in the final AP poll, which would be fantastic.
Yesterday, Army quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. rushed for 170 yards and five touchdowns on just 11 carries, part of a devastating ground attack that racked up 507 yards.
--Also Saturday, in another game I thought would be entertaining, and was, the Troy Trojans finish the year at 10-3 with a 42-32 win over Buffalo (10-4), as Trojans’ sophomore quarterback Sawyer Smith had his best game, 31/44, 320, 4-0.
Note to Buffalo QB Tyree Jackson (two turnovers). You have NFL size and tools, but I hope whoever will be advising insists you stay in school for your senior year. You are in no way ready to play on Sundays.
On to the playoffs next Saturday...Clemson-Notre Dame, Oklahoma-Alabama. I can’t wait. Don’t bother me that day.
--College football’s early signing period ended this week and as ranked by ESPN, Alabama’s class was ranked No. 1; Georgia No. 2, after being ranked No. 1 for 2018.
--Huge trade between the Dodgers and the Reds, as Los Angeles tried to free up a lot of payroll space to potentially go after Bryce Harper, while creating more room in an otherwise crowded outfield...the Dodgers sending Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer, plus money, to the Reds for pitcher Homer Bailey and two solid prospects.
It’s complicated, with all sorts of money flying around in the deal (not sure how Bailey’s $23 million in 2019 is being handled as he is being released), but the bottom line is the Dodgers, looking to get under the luxury-tax for 2019, save roughly $17 million and still have room to perhaps offer Harper fewer years than he is seeking, say four or five, but at a higher price, $35 million per, with the attraction being the Dodgers’ rich heritage, the opportunity to win now, and proximity to his home in Las Vegas.
A four-year deal, for example, would still leave Harper at just 30 when the contract expired.
Cincinnati, desperate to improve themselves on the field in order to bring back the fans after a 67-95 season, nonetheless will see Kemp, Puig and Wood become free agents after the 2019 season.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers are winners in jettisoning Puig.
Bill Plaschke / Los Angeles Times
“Yasiel Puig was energetic, exciting and fun.
“Yasiel Puig was also selfish, irresponsible and ultimately destructive....
“During his six seasons in Los Angeles, Puig captured the hearts of Dodger fans, but lost the trust of his team. He won moments, but cost games. He was their biggest star, but also their biggest clubhouse burden. The most popular cheer at Dodger Stadium was, “Puiiiig.’
“But if that low guttural tone came from the dugout, it would often be a ‘Boooo.’
“Vin Scully delightfully called him the ‘Wild Horse.’
“But too many times, Puig acted like the wild rear end of that horse.
“Mourn the loss of Puig if you will – and surely you will – but the Dodgers got the better end of Friday’s trade simply by getting rid of him.”
--Back to Homer Bailey, it’s a reminder how the Reds signed the pitcher to arguably the worst contract in baseball history, certainly for a pitcher.
In 2013, Bailey, then 27, was 11-12 with a career-best 3.49 ERA, 209 innings, 199 strikeouts.
So the Reds rewarded him with a six-year, $105 million deal, which included a $5 million buyout in 2020.
2014...9-5, 3.71 ERA, 23 starts...$9 million
2015...0-1, 5.56, 2 games...$10 million
2016...2-3, 6.65, 6 games...$18 million
2017...6-9, 6.43, 18 games...$19 million
2018...1-14, 6.09, 20 games...$21 million
2020...$5 million buyout
--The Manny Machado watch is on hold until after New Year’s, according to various reports. The soon-to-be $300 million man (one can assume), has narrowed his choice down to the Yankees, Phillies and White Sox. Machado supposedly spent like four hours with Philadelphia, vs. 90 minutes with the Yankees (and an unknown amount of time with Chicago), but some are speculating the Phillies are leery about a 10-year deal given Machado’s past knee surgeries.
The Yankees may not have offered 10 years either...perhaps seven or eight, but at $35 million per.
One thing we know in these parts, it would not be good for New York to enter spring training having failed to sign either Machado or Harper, especially after the Yanks lost out in the Patrick Corbin sweepstakes to the Nationals.
--There had been lots of talk locally about the Yankees signing Daniel Murphy, but the Rockies ended up doing so...two years, $24 million.
--St. Louis signed lefty reliever Andrew Miller to a two-year deal, $22 million, plus an option for a third.
--Scary situation for Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia, who we just learned had a stent inserted after a blockage was found in an artery from his heart.
Sabathia’s agent told The Athletic the procedure took place Dec. 11, with GM Brian Cashman saying CC is expected to report to spring training on time.
Cashman said: “We are thankful that CC was smart enough to convey his symptoms to our medical staff, and in turn they immediately engaged New York-Presbyterian Hospital, who quickly determined the root cause of what ailed him. We are also encouraged that the procedure CC underwent was performed as planned.”
It seems CC saved his life by reacting quickly to experiencing acid reflux, heartburn and an increased amount of perspiration when riding an exercise bike earlier this month. The folks at New York-Presbyterian then put him through a stress test, at which point it was discovered he had a blocked artery.
Sabathia re-signed with the Yanks for one season at $8 million, after going 9-7 with a 3.65 ERA in 29 starts last season. He has announced this is his last one.
CC undergoes another stress test on Jan. 8, and hopefully gets the all-clear to increase his offseason conditioning program ahead of the start of spring training.
--The average major league salary dropped in 2018 for the first time since 2004 and for only the fourth time since record-keeping started 50 years ago, the players’ association said. The final average was $4,095,686, down from $4,097,122, owing to an unusually slow free-agent market last offseason. Things have certainly picked up this year. I mean one year, $11 million for Matt Harvey?!
The major league minimum, though, continues to rise...from $490,000 in 2013 to $545,000 in 2018.
--Baseball’s Hall of Fame vote is announced Jan. 22, and we’ll have more on that down the road, but there has been some talk that Mariano Rivera, on the ballot for the first time, could become the first unanimous selection.
But it would seem Rivera’s vote may not be unanimous, as Bill Ballou of the Worcester, Mass., Telegram, has already announced he does not plan on voting for Rivera, knowledge of this coming through a lengthy piece Ballou wrote on the Telegram website Saturday evening, explaining why Rivera does not belong in Cooperstown.
As of Saturday norming, Rivera had received votes on 100 percent of publicly released ballots, and still could become the Hall’s first unanimous entrant, but Ballou spent 1,500 words denigrating the role of the closer:
“The Save...is the lowest-hanging fruit on the game’s statistical tree. Closers are its naked emperors.”
But then Ballou also said he will not submit a ballot this year. Ergo, as Anthony Barstow of the New York Post notes: “Ballou gets to have his cake and eat it, too, arguing against Rivera’s Hall of Fame case without suffering the wrath of blowing a potential unanimous selection.”
So then why did Ballou put out such a tortured explanation that included citing Craig Kimbrel’s awful 2018 postseason?
Ballou writes: “I think I’m right about closers, but not so much that I would deny Rivera a chance to be the first unanimous Hall of Famer. Thus, I’m not voting this year. A submitted blank ballot is a ‘no’ vote for every candidate, so I’m doing a Switzerland and not sending one at all.”
--David Waldstein and Katie Rogers / New York Times
“Major League Baseball, in conjunction with the players’ union, on Wednesday announced an agreement with the Cuban baseball federation to legalize and streamline the transfer of professional baseball players to the United States and Canada – but the move immediately met resistance from the Trump administration.
“The agreement is intended to bring order to the often chaotic path, fraught with human trafficking, by which Cuban players have landed in the major leagues in recent decades.
“But within hours of the announcement, the Trump administration had attacked the deal, essentially threatening to scuttle it before it could be put in place.
“The White said in a statement that it would continue to work to restrict the Cuban regime’s ability to profit from United States businesses. It also indicated that the plan would create another human rights issue – one carried out by the Cuban government rather than traffickers.”
The three-year deal would create a posting system similar to how players from Japan and South Korea join the major leagues.
The Cuban baseball federation, under the agreement, will release a player to sign with an MLB team after he has accumulated either six years of service time in Cuba or is at least 25 years old. In exchange, the Cuban federation would receive 25 percent of a player’s signing bonus for a minor league player; 15-25 percent for a major league player, based on a formula.
We will see if the White House really tries to block what many members of Congress believe is a great deal for both sides. The bottom line is this would eliminate the need to defect, and Cuba, just as is the case with Japan and South Korea, would be duly compensated.
Some big upsets since last chat....
--Wednesday, North Carolina State (10-1) defeated No. 7 Auburn (9-2) 78-71, behind Markell Johnson’s career-high 27 points.
--Friday, No. 14 Buffalo finally met their match at 20 Marquette (10-2), falling 103-85, the Bulls suffering their first loss of the season, now 11-1.
And No. 24 Furman (12-1) suffered its first loss, 75-57 at LSU (9-3).
--Thursday, Duke came to Madison Square Garden to face No. 12 and undefeated Texas Tech. The place was buzzing for one primary reason. Zion Williamson was in town, and the man-child had 17 points and 13 rebounds as the No. 2 Blue Devils (soon-to-be No. 1) won 69-58, though in most unimpressive fashion, shooting 3-of-20 from three and only 38.3 percent overall.
But Knicks fans are salivating that Williamson, who expressed a desire to play in the Garden as more than just a visitor down the road, could one day be donning a New York uniform. Tank for Zion!
--So Duke will be No. 1 after top-ranked Kansas fell on the road to 18 Arizona State (9-2) 80-76 Saturday night, the Jayhawks just 7-of-28 from three. This was a critical win for the Pac-12, which was dreadful in its non-conference big tilts thus far. If NCAA bids were handed out today, the Pac-12 would receive just three, at most.
--Also Saturday, 19 Kentucky played perhaps its best game of the season, defeating No. 9 North Carolina (8-3) in Chicago, 80-72, the Wildcats now 9-2.
--Finally, I watched a fair amount of Wake’s hoops game at No. 3 Tennessee (10-1) and the Deacs looked absolutely awful, falling 83-64, Wake 6-4.
What is so discouraging for us fans is that under Danny Manning, save for John Collins, now starring for the Atlanta Hawks, no one improves year to year.
And if Jaylen Hoard thinks he’s a lottery pick, he’s nuts. Stay in school another year.
Things are so bad, freshman guard Jamie Lewis, in announcing he was transferring, became the eighth player to leave the program in the calendar year, the seventh who’s done so voluntarily.
Bryant Crawford and Doral Moore should be playing their senior years at Wake (making us infinitely better), but they stupidly chose to leave early to play in the pros, Moore in the G-League, Crawford in Israel (when both thought they were NBA material, today). Keyshawn Woods should also be playing his final year with the Deacs (as in if all three were on the team now we’d be talking NCAAs), but Woods opted to go to Ohio State to play as a grad transfer, where he is a key rotation player on a top 20 team.
The others all transferred, including one initially kicked off the team.
What does this tell you about Danny Manning? Everything. And it will be worse when he’s fired after this season. But we need to reboot.
Oh, and the athletic director needs to depart along with Danny.
I have an idea. Bring back Jim Grobe to be AD. Dave Clawson wouldn’t mind that.
--Nine times a player has scored 50 points in a game this year, which if the pace continues, would represent the most 50-point games since it happened 18 times in 2006-07.
As of this weekend, there have been 493 50-point performances in NBA history, according to basketball-reference.com, with Wilt Chamberlain having 117 of them.
Following Wilt are Michael Jordan (31), Kobe Bryant (25), Elgin Baylor (17) and Rick Barry (14). LeBron James is the active leader with 12, followed by James Harden with 11.
Alpine World Cup
Incredibly, after taking a few days, and races, off, Mikaela Shiffrin won both the giant slalom and slalom races in Courchevel, France, this weekend, giving her 35 slalom wins, 50 World Cup wins overall...and she turns just 24 in March!
Shiffrin’s 35th slalom win tied the record in the discipline held by her childhood idol Marlies Schild of Austria.
Ingemar Stenmark’s overall record of 86 WC wins is seemingly less than five or so years away.
Shiffrin is the youngest of the eight skiers, four men and four women, to win 50 World Cup races across all disciplines.
I mean, consider this. Shiffrin hasn’t lost a slalom race since her surprising fourth-place finish at the Pyeongchang Olympics in February.
She has seven wins this season in just 11 races (with a third-place finish as well).
Her prize money thus far ($353,000) is more than three times that of any other female racer.
--I was running around Saturday morning, trying to clear the plate before settling down to watch Wake Forest’s bowl game, so I caught zero Premier League action.
When I returned, I had a text from Dr. W., asking if I had seen CP’s win over Manchester City. I had to re-read it, and then look up the score, before it sunk in.
Yes, lowly Crystal Palace defeated Man City 3-2, on the road, in what manager Roy Hodgson described as “one of those bonanza days.” It was Palace’s first win at City in exactly 28 years and ended the defending champions’ 100% home record in the top flight this season.
In other games, Arsenal beat Burnley 3-1; Chelsea suffered a bad home loss to Leicester City, 1-0; and Southampton had a key 3-1 win at Huddersfield in the battle to avoid relegation.
Additionally, in his first game as interim manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United squad played inspired football, a 5-1 thrashing at Cardiff, with $100 million man Paul Pogba finally getting off the bench and having a hand in all three first-half goals.
Then today, Tottenham traveled to Everton and blitzed the Toffees 6-2, Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min with two goals apiece.
So the standings after 18 of 38...W-D-L...Pts.
2. Man City...14-2-2...44
6. Man U...8-5-5...29
--If you have Boxing Day, Dec. 26, off...check out some Premier League action.
--Dr. W. saw Bob Seger in concert in Greenville, S.C., this week (his farewell tour, supposedly), and the good doctor said Seger was “the consummate performer; great band; great concert...”
Top 3 songs for the week 12/26/64: “I Feel Fine” (The Beatles) #2 “Come See About Me” (The Supremes) #3 “Mr. Lonely” (Bobby Vinton)...and...#4 “She’s A Woman” (The Beatles) #5 “She’s Not There” (The Zombies) #6 “Goin’ Out Of My Head” (Little Anthony and The Imperials...this tune has become timeless...) #7 “Ringo” (Lorne Greene...another reason to love the 60s, that a tune like this could crack the top ten...) #8 “Dance, Dance, Dance” (The Beach Boys) #9 “The Jerk” (The Larks) #10 “Time Is On My Side” (The Rolling Stones...super week, to state the obvious...)
MLB Quiz Answer: Only two National League teams to never have an MVP Award winner...the Mets and Diamondbacks.
And now, our annual Christmas special....best read with the children Christmas Eve. I added a new story to the old favorites.
Apollo 8...50 years go....
Growing up, one of the more dramatic memories as a kid was staying up Christmas Eve 1968 to follow the remarkable voyage of Apollo 8.
If ever a nation needed a pick me up, it was America in ’68, after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, with the ongoing war in Vietnam and the dramatic Tet Offensive, and after LBJ’s sudden withdrawal from the presidential race, the turbulent Democratic Convention, and the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Yes, we were ready for a little space adventure.
Apollo 8 would be the first manned mission to orbit the moon. Commanded by Frank Borman, with James Lovell, Jr. and William Anders, it was launched on December 21 and on Christmas Eve the three began their orbit. What made it all even more dramatic was the first go round to the dark side of the moon, when all communication was lost for 45 minutes until they reemerged at the other side. It was the middle of the night for us viewers, at least in the Eastern time zone, and I remember that Apollo was sending back spectacular photos of Earth, including “Earthrise,” the first ever seen by humans and probably the most iconic photo in history.
Borman described the moon as “a vast, lonely and forbidding sight,” and Lovell called Earth, “a grand oasis in the big vastness of space.” The crew members then took turns reading from the Book of Genesis / Creation:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light;” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
James Lovell would later say, “Please be informed, there is a Santa Claus.” And Borman concluded with, “Merry Christmas. God bless all of you, all of you on the Good Earth.”
Ron White, author of “American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant,” had a piece in the New York Daily News (Dec. 2017) on the story of how Christmas became a national holiday, President Grant signing a proclamation on June 24, 1870 making it so.
“The Pilgrims who first came to a new England did not celebrate Christmas. Their memories of Christmas in the old England they left behind were of a season of decadence and debauchery. Nearly two centuries later, in the first year of the new United States, Congress met in session on December 25, 1789 – certainly not a holiday.
“In the early decades of the 19th century Americans began to reimagine Christmas, turning it into church- and family-centered celebrations. Charles Dickens published ‘A Christmas Carol’ in 1843. Carol singing, tree decorations and gift-giving became regular parts of Christmas. Political cartoonist Thomas Nast, a German immigrant, popularized a jolly Santa Claus in his drawings.
“During the Civil War, Christmas meant a day of rest as well as memories of festivities back home. Robert Gould Shaw, who would receive fame as commander of the 54th Massachusetts, the first African-American regiment organized in the North, wrote, ‘It is Christmas morning and I hope for a happy and merry one for you all.’
“Grant, victorious Union Civil War general, emerged from the war with a passion to reunite the nation. If he had become a practitioner of a ‘hard war’ during the four-year-long conflict, as the war reached its climax he grew into an advocate of a ‘soft peace.’ He demonstrated his belief at the Confederate surrender at Appomattox when he offered Robert E. Lee a magnanimous peace.
“Grant’s decision to declare Christmas a legal public holiday reveals two sides of this self-effacing American leader. First, although he is not portrayed as a religious person in biographies, a closer look will reveal a quiet man who did not wear his faith on his sleeve, but displayed his Methodist commitment to social justice. Raised in Ohio in a devout Methodist family, he married Julia Dent, whose grandfather was a Methodist minister.
“His private faith became more public in his presidency. The Washington National Cathedral, whose construction began in 1907, is often thought to be the first national church in the nation’s capital, but Grant played a decisive role in the declaration of the actual first national church in Washington four decades earlier.
“By the Civil War, Methodism had become the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. In the early 1850s, Methodists made plans to build the first national church in Washington. When it became clear that Grant would be elected President in 1868, Methodists accelerated plans to complete their national church.
“On Feb. 28, four days before Grant’s inauguration as President, he sat in the front pew as the Metropolitan Methodist Church was dedicated. Grant would serve as a trustee, while Julia chaired the national committee to retire the debt of the church.
“Second, Grant’s commitment to making Christmas a legal holiday needs to be understood as part of his drive to unite the North and the South after the war. Grant began his presidency in 1869 as what was called Reconstruction was unraveling.
“The 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution were enacted to guarantee the civil and political rights of newly emancipated African-Americans. But ex-Confederate generals and Southern newspaper editors, aided by the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan, determined to quickly replace slavery with what would become Jim Crow segregation. In Grant’s finest moment as President, he would take on the Klan with the power of the federal government, even as his own Republican party retreated from its Reconstruction commitments.
“In this tumultuous year, where bitterness and acrimony seem more regnant than peace and joy, we may well ask: Does Christmas as a public holiday unite or divide? We live in a religious culture quite different than Grant’s world. Yet his public passion to unite North and South in making Christmas a national holiday can inform and inspire attempts to hold up light amid darkness at the end of 2017.”
Michael Gartland / New York Post
“NORAD’s tradition of tracking Santa’s sleigh began with a wrong number.
“Right before Christmas in 1955, Sears ran an ad offering millions of toy-hungry girls and boys the chance to talk to the big man himself. In Colorado Springs, the retailer published the local phone number to the North Pole as ME2-6681.
“There was only one problem: The number was one digit off.
“And that wrong number rang on the desk of a high-ranking officer in a bunker at the Continental Air Defense Command – the predecessor of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which has the less-than-festive mission of detecting and defending the continent against nuclear attack.”
Col. Harry Shoup took the first call on the command’s red phone. In an interview with the Post, Shoup’s daughter, Terri Van Keuren, recalled:
“ ‘The phone rang, and he picked up. ‘This is Colonel Shoup, commander of this combat station. Who is this?’”
Silence on the other end. Shoup repeated himself, then “a meek little boy’s voice came over the line.
“ ‘Is this Santa Claus?’ he murmured.
“Worried there had been some kind of security breach, Shoup again demanded the caller’s name. He heard crying, and another query came through the tears.
“ ‘Is this one of Santa’s elves?’
“Shoup recognized he was in a moment that could destroy the little boy’s faith in Santa.
“ ‘Yes, I am,’ he said. ‘Have you been a good boy?’
After the two talked a while, Shoup asked to speak with the boy’s mother.
“ ‘He asked her: ‘Do you have any idea who you’ve called?’’ Van Keuren said. ‘She told him to take a look at that day’s newspaper.’”
So the calls flooded in and Shoup directed his men to answer as Santa.
Weeks later, Shoup, on vacation, dropped in on his men and spotted a sleigh on the huge plexiglass map of North America in the room. A subordinate was afraid he had just lost his job.
Instead, Shoup said, “There’s something good we could do with this.”
And so Col. Shoup called a local radio station with the news the command center was tracking Santa’s sleigh. Ever since then, NORAD has been tracking Santa.
Speaking of Santa and reindeer, Edward Kosner had a piece in the Wall Street Journal (11/18/16) on the story of Rudolph, “among other things, the first real addition to American Christmas lore since the first decades of the 19th century. That’s when Washington Irving transformed churchy St. Nicholas into a clay-pipe-puffing, rotund charmer and Clement Clark Mooreequipped him with eight flying reindeer and an automatically replenishing, toy-filled sleigh. Gene Autry, the singing cowpoke, made the song into a hit in 1949, and since then it’s been recorded by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Destiny’s Child to the Temptations and Burl Ives, not to mention Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and the Cadillacs, the doo-wop group revered for ‘Speedo.’”
So the legend of Rudolph has been deconstructed in a new book by Ronald D. Lankford Jr., who has written books about popular music. In “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: An American Hero,” Lankford digs up far more than you would think was available, “a parable of American commerce cloaked in benevolence,” as Edward Kosner put it.
“The Rudolph creation story begins in Chicago in January 1939, when Robert May, a nerdy 33-year-old adman at Montgomery Ward – with its bursting catalog and more than 600 stores, a retail colossus second only to Sears, Roebuck – was assigned by his boss to dream up a Christmas giveaway, perhaps an illustrated story like the one about Ferdinand the bashful bull....(so) May came up with an awkward young reindeer mocked by his fellows whose oddity – an incandescent nose – enables him to save the day when a befogged Santa asks him to lead the team for global toy delivery.
“According to the legend, May read his poetic text to his daughter, who loved it. The Ward hierarchy didn’t; some worried that the red nose would remind too many parents of drunks. But one exec stood up for Rudolph, and the corporation wound up giving away 2.4 million copies of a 32-page illustrated pamphlet to kids brought to Ward stores by mom and dad. Seven years later, after the end of World War II, another 3.6 million copies were handed out. With an entrepreneurial corporate boost, Rudolph was launched.
“May’s ‘Rudolph’ was a work for hire owned by Ward, but the company’s chairman gave the adman the copyright in 1947, and May made the most of it....In 1949, May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, wrote the song that has enthralled or tormented people ever since. He paid $5 to the singer Guy Mitchell to make a demo and sent it to several crooners. At the end of a session to lay down two 45-rpm Christmas records, Gene Autry devoted 10 minutes to ‘Rudolph’ and made it the B-side of one of the discs. It eventually sold 2.5 million copies, his greatest hit.
“The legend only grew. In 1964, another corporate angel, RCA, swooped in and produced a stop-motion animated ‘Rudolph’ special that was shown on TV every Christmas.”
Lankford argues that Rudolph “appeals to Americans because the story is actually an inspirational Horatio Alger tale of pluck and luck leading to unlikely success. And he ponders whether Rudolph should be thought of as true folklore or as ‘fakelore,’ like Paul Bunyan, or even ‘fakelure’ – a commercial come-on. In the end, it hardly matters.
Then how the reindeer loved him
As they shouted out with glee.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,
You’ll go down in history.”
Kosner: “And so he has.”
A Visit from St. Nicholas
By Clement C. Moore [Well, he really stole it, but that’s a story for another day. This is the original version.]
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap;
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof,
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof -
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes - how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
The story of Phil Spector’s “A Christmas Gift for You,” as told by Ronnie Spector in her book “Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness…or…My Life as a Fabulous Ronette”.
“One record that did feature all three Ronettes – and just about everyone else who worked for Phil – was Phil’s Christmas album, A Christmas Gift for You. Phil is Jewish, but for some reason he always loved Christmas. Every year he would spend weeks designing his own special Christmas card, which he would send to everyone in the business. In 1963 he took that idea one step further and recorded an entire album of Christmas music, with contributions from all the acts on his Philles label. All of the groups got to do three or four songs each. The Ronettes did ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,’ ‘Sleigh Ride,’ and ‘Frosty the Snowman.’
“We worked on that one forever. Phil started recording it in the summer, and he didn’t leave the studio for about two months. We’d start recording early in the evening, and we’d work until late into the night, sometimes even into the next morning. And everybody sang on everyone else’s songs, so all of Phil’s acts really were like one big, happy family for that one album.
“While he was recording it, Phil told everyone that this Christmas album was going to be the masterpiece of his career. And he meant it. We all knew how important this project was to Phil when he walked into the studio on the last day of recording and announced that he was going to add a vocal himself. The final song on the record is a spoken message from Phil, where he thanks all the kids for buying his records and then wishes everyone a Merry Christmas, while we all sing a chorus of ‘Silent Night’ in the background. A lot of people thought the song was corny. But if you knew Phil like I did, it was very touching.
“But then I always did have a soft spot for Phil’s voice. There was something about his phrasing and diction that drove me crazy. It was so cool, so calm, so serene. Phil wasn’t a singer, but when he spoke he put me in a romantic mood like no singer could. He was the only guy I ever met who could talk me into an orgasm.
“Of course, he wasn’t doing that back then. Not yet, anyway. Phil and I were still just sweethearts in those days. We spent lots of time together, and we were very romantic, but we still hadn’t slept together. Maybe that’s why we were so romantic.
“A Christmas Gift for You finally came out in November of 1963. But in spite of all the work we put into it, the album was one of Phil’s biggest flops. It was reissued as The Phil Spector Christmas Album in the early seventies, and nowadays people talk about it like it’s one of the greatest albums in rock and roll history. But nobody bought it when it first came out.
“President Kennedy had been shot a few days before it was released, and after that people were too depressed to even look at a rock and roll record. And they stayed that way until well into the New Year of 1964, when – thank God – four long-haired English guys finally got them to go back into the record stores.”
The Gospel According to Luke
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see - I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Political commentator Pat Buchanan (The Atlantic, December 2015). The question was: “What is the greatest comeback of all time?”
Betrayed, scourged, crucified on a cross between two thieves, Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead and sent his apostles to preach his doctrines to the world, out of which came Christianity and Western civilization. Then he ascended into heaven. His name is known to more people than that of any other man who walked the Earth, and the empire that crucified him is gone.
Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus
A famous letter from Virginia O’Hanlon to the editorial board of the New York Sun, first printed in 1897:
We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:
Dear Editor -
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
World War I – Christmas Truce
By December 1914, the war had been picking up in intensity for five months. Ironically, the feeling during the initial phases was that everyone would be home by Christmas, though little did they know it would be Christmas 1918.
On Christmas Eve 1914, along the British and German lines, particularly in the Flanders area, the soldiers got into conversation with each other and it was clear to the British that the Germans wanted some sort of Christmas Armistice. Sir Edward Hulse wrote in his diary, “A scout named F. Murker went out and met a German Patrol and was given a glass of whisky and some cigars, and a message was sent back saying that if we didn’t fire at them they would not fire at us.” That night, where five days earlier there had been savage fighting, the guns fell silent.
The following morning German soldiers walked towards the British wire and the Brits went out to meet them. They exchanged caps and souvenirs and food. Then arrangements were made for the British to pick up bodies left on the German side during a recent failed raid.
Christmas Day, fraternization took place along many of the lines, including a few of the French and Belgian ones. Some joined in chasing hares, others, most famously, kicked around a soccer ball. British soldier Bruce Bairnsfather would write, “It all felt most curious: here were these sausage-eating wretches, who had elected to start this infernal European fracas, and in so doing had brought us all into the same muddy pickle as themselves. But there was not an atom of hate on either side that day; and yet, on our side, not for a moment was the will to war and the will to beat them relaxed.”
In the air the war continued and the French Foreign Legionnaires in Alsace were ordered to fight Christmas Day as well. Plus, most of the commanders on both sides were none too pleased. Nothing like the Christmas truce of 1914 would occur in succeeding years (outside of a pocket or two) and by December 26, 1914, the guns were blazing anew.
[Source: “The First World War,” by Martin Gilbert]
“May You Always”
From 1959-2002, Harry Harrison was a fixture on New York radio, the last 20+ years at the great oldies station WCBS-FM. Unfortunately, he was forced to retire, which ticked off many of us to no end, but he will forever be remembered for a brilliant greeting titled “May You Always.” Enjoy.
As the holiday bells ring out the old year, and sweethearts kiss,
And cold hands touch and warm each other against the year ahead,
May I wish you not the biggest and best of life,
But the small pleasures that make living worthwhile.
Sometime during the new year, to keep your heart in practice,
May you do someone a secret good deed and not get caught at it.
May you find a little island of time to read that book and write that letter,
And to visit that lonely friend on the other side of town.
May your next do-it-yourself project not look like you did it yourself.
May the poor relatives you helped support remember you when they win the lottery.
May your best card tricks win admiring gasps and your worst puns, admiring groans.
May all those who told you so, refrain from saying “I told you so.”
May all the predictions you’ve made for your firstborn’s future come true.
May just half of those optimistic predictions that your high school annual made for you come true.
In a time of sink or swim, may you find you can walk to shore before you call the lifeguard.
May you keep at least one ideal you can pass along to your kids.
For a change, some rainy day, when you’re a few minutes late,
May your train or bus be waiting for you.
May you accidentally overhear someone saying something nice about you.
If you run into an old school chum,
May you both remember each other’s names for introductions.
If you order your steak medium rare, may it be so.
And, if you’re on a diet, may someone tell you, “You’ve lost a little weight,” without knowing you’re on a diet.
May that long and lonely night be brightened by the telephone call that you’ve been waiting for.
When you reach into the coin slot, may you find the coin that you lost on your last wrong number.
When you trip and fall, may there be no one watching to laugh at you or feel sorry for you.
And sometime soon, may you be waved to by a celebrity, wagged at by a puppy, run to by a happy child, and counted on by someone you love.
More than this, no one can wish you.
Ross Cameron / Sydney Morning Herald…I first read this in December 2009.
“Jesus is easily the most influential person in history, and the most universally loved….
“Of his early life, the record is almost blank; we are left with a few fragments….
“He was deeply literate in Jewish scriptures but silent on writings outside that tradition. We may assume he lived his entire life within 160 km of his birthplace – he never describes a foreign custom or place. After a major spiritual moment under the influence of John, he launched into local prominence as an itinerant preacher at age 30. Tradition holds that Jesus was a public figure for three years but modern scholars strongly believe a single year is more likely….
“Riding a wave of fame and popularity, Jesus moved the road show to the heavily garrisoned provincial and religious capital of Jerusalem, entering the city in the lead-up to the most holy day of the Jewish year. The Roman authorities are not known for their tolerance of burgeoning mass movements. Jesus fairly quickly found his way to the agony and humiliation of public torture and execution by order of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate – famous for casual brutality. It was a routine event in a typical day in a Roman occupied city.
“History’s great riddle followed. His supporters immediately claimed Jesus rose from the dead. The four biographies of Jesus often contradict each other on minor details but nowhere so much as in the resurrection narratives. The difficulty with dismissing the claim altogether, however, is how otherwise to explain the instant, unprecedented explosion of the Jesus movement across the Mediterranean. The willingness of so many sane first-century beings – many of them witnesses – to suffer death rather than deny the central tenet of their faith, is also cause for reflection….
“We are left to ponder how one year in the life of a seeming nobody could transform the Roman Empire and the entire planet. The reason for the triumph of this nobody is to be found in his first recorded words. ‘Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.’ Jesus is specially kind to the weak and the outcast – to women, the poor, children, a madman in chains and a hated tax collector.
“In the pre-Jesus record, in virtually every human society, vast faceless classes of people were less valued than domestic animals. The world’s second-greatest philosopher, Aristotle, while writing the 101 course of every academic discipline, fervently endorsed the keeping of slaves as natural and desirable to good order. Slavery continued for centuries after Jesus but the impulse to end it was Christian. Beyond the Jewish scriptures, to which Jesus gave a megaphone, no one cared about those on the margins. Jesus establishes the sublime idea that everyone matters.
“Today that single thought has transformed our sense of what it means to be human. Major political parties of the earth, whether left, centrist or right wing (with the possible exception of the Greens) agree the welfare of the whole human race is our common goal. ‘Blessed are the meek’ evolved into ‘All men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’
“From whatever perspective we come, thinking people ought to be able to agree, the birth of Jesus was a good day for mankind. I suspect I may never quite shake the childlike hunch that there is some uniquely divine imprint on the central individual of the human story. Happy Birthday, Jesus.”
[From Army Times]
Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army was in a dire situation during the frigid winter of 1776. His army had been defeated and chased from New York, and forced to set up winter camp for his remaining 5,000 troops at Valley Forge, Pa., only miles from the capital city of Philadelphia. With morale at its lowest point of the war and enlistments coming to an end, Washington desperately needed a victory to secure reenlistments and draw in some new recruits. The outcome of the revolution was at stake.
On Christmas night, Washington’s troops began to gather on the banks of the Delaware River at McKonkey’s Ferry. His plan was to cross the partially frozen river by midnight, march to Trenton and surround the garrison of Hessian troops (Germans fighting for the British) in the city in a predawn attack.
Before the Army had even launched a boat across the river, it began to rain, then hail, then snow. Washington was behind schedule. Remarkably, the force crossed the river without a single casualty. At 4 a.m., Dec. 26, the ill-equipped army began to march toward Trenton, some with rags wrapped around their feet instead of shoes.
Washington had achieved complete surprise with the dangerous crossing. The battle began when the Army encountered a group of unprepared Hessian sentries at about 8 a.m., and by 9:30 the garrison had surrendered. The Army had killed 22, injured 83 and taken 896 prisoners.
By noon, Washington had left Trenton, having lost two men in the battle, and returned to camp at Valley Forge. He had won a major victory, inspiring the needed reenlistments. News of the battle drew new recruits into the beleaguered Continental Army. The revolution would live to fight another day.
There’s a piece in the December issue of Smithsonian on the first known references to building snowmen, or snow sculpture.
In 1494: Snow sculpture gets its Michelangelo – literally. “One winter, when a great deal of snow fell in Florence,” Giorgio Vasari wrote, Michelangelo created “a statue of snow, which was very beautiful,” in Piero de Medici’s courtyard.
1690: The first known snowmen in the Colonies are built to stand guard at the gates of Schenectady while the human sentinels head to a tavern. That night, French and Indian forces plow through the meager defenses, devastating the town.”
1969: Though a creature capable of melting clearly shouldn’t smoke a corncob pipe, the “Frosty the Snowman” animated cartoon – based on the sappy 1950 song first recorded by Gene Autry – serves up the snowman archetype for generations.
A number of years ago, Rich Lowry wrote an op-ed in the New York Post on the genius of “White Christmas”:
“America’s classic Christmas song was written by a Jewish immigrant.
“Born in Russia with the name Israel Baline, he was the genius songwriter we know as Irving Berlin. He wrote ‘White Christmas’ for the 1942 Hollywood musical ‘Holiday Inn,’ starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.
“On set, the movie’s hit number was presumed to be another Berlin composition, the Valentine’s Day song ‘Be Careful, It’s My Heart.’ At first, it was. Then ‘White Christmas’ captured the public’s imagination and hasn’t quite loosed its grip since....
“Some estimates point to sales of all versions of ‘White Christmas’ topping 100 million....
“It is a song built on yearning. In lines at the beginning of the original version that aren’t usually performed, Berlin writes of being out in sunny California during the holiday: ‘There’s never been such a day/in Beverly Hills, L.A./But it’s December the twenty-fourth,/And I’m longing to be up North’.
“(Colleague Mark) Steyn thinks that if America had entered World War II a few years earlier, the song might never have taken off. But 1942 was the year that American men were first shipped overseas, and it was released into a wave of homesickness. (Berlin’s daughter) Mary Ellin Barrett says it first caught on with GIs in Great Britain. During the course of the war, it became the most requested song with Armed Forces Radio.
“The irony of the son of a cantor writing the characteristic American Christmas song is obvious. Yet, Berlin’s daughter says, ‘He believed in the great American Christmas.’ As a child on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, he loved to look at the little Christmas tree of his Catholic neighbors. He and his Christian wife Ellin (theirs was a scandalous mixed marriage), put on elaborate, joyous Christmases for their daughters. Not until later would they reveal that the day was a painful one for them because they had lost an infant child on Christmas.
“Berlin knew he had something special with ‘White Christmas’ as soon as he wrote it. He supposedly enthused to his secretary, ‘I just wrote the best song I’ve ever written – heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!’ The song evokes the warmth of the hearth and the comforts of our Christmas traditions in a way that hasn’t stopped pulling at heartstrings yet.”
Some tidbits related to “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” At first, Charles Schulz and his associates didn’t think they’d be able to pull the project off for CBS. Production was crammed into five months and CBS executives were none too pleased with the results. Schulz insisted on the biblical passage, animator Bill Melendez and producer Lee Mendelson weren’t so sure.
The rush to production (they were given just five months) led to a few mistakes, like Schroeder’s fingers coming off the keyboard while music is playing, and Pig Pen mysteriously disappearing for a second. Plus the barren Christmas tree lost, and then regained, a couple of branches. They just didn’t have time to change it.
Melendez, by the way, wrote the lyrics to “Christmas Time Is Here” in 15 minutes on an envelope, after Vince Guaraldi had come up with the music. A children’s choir recorded it just four days before the show premiered.
The show was a ratings smash when it premiered Dec. 9, 1965, on CBS. Last year, 2015, it still averaged 6 million viewers.
Separately, Mendelson recalled speaking to Schulz shortly before he died. “He said, ‘Good grief. That little kid’s never going to kick the football.’”
Linus [From “A Charlie Brown Christmas”]
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shown round about them. And they were so afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you. Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, goodwill toward men.”
That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
Merry Christmas, gang!