Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christ-Mass: Day 4 (Childermas)

“On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four calling birds ...”

Actually, they would have been referred to as "colly birds," meaning a form of blackbird. This is one of a number of lines that had become corrupted over the centuries. But enough about the song. Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the infant males under the age of two in Bethlehem that King Herod had put to death -- tradition has put the number at 14,000 -- in the hopes of doing away with the newborn King, which he saw as a threat to his power (Matthew 2:16-18).

Obviously he didn't know the half of it.

In Spainish-speaking countries (including, uh, Spain), this is traditionally a day given to playing practical jokes, much like April Fools' Day elsewhere. The pranks are known as "inocentadas" and their victims are called "inocentes," or alternatively, the pranksters are the "inocentes." Don't ask me why.

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This day is significant for a number of other reasons ...

* On this day in 1065, Westminster Abbey was consecrated.

* On this day in 1768, Taksin the Great was crowned king of the newly established Thonburi Kingdom in the new capital at Thonburi, present-day Thailand.

* On this day in 1832, John Calhoun became the first Vice President of the USA to resign.

* On this day in 1836, at the Old Gum Tree near present-day Adelaide, Royal Navy Rear–Admiral John Hindmarsh read a proclamation establishing the British province of South Australia.

* On this day in 1846, Iowa became the 29th of our United States.

* On this day in 1856, Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States (1913-21), was born.

* On this day in 1869, William Semple of Mount Vernon, Ohio, obtained a patent for chewing gum.

* On this day in 1879, the Tay Rail Bridge, spanning the Firth of Tay in Scotland between Dundee and the Wormit, collapsed during a violent storm while a train was passing over it, killing all on board.

* On this day in 1905, Earl "Fatha" Hines, the father of modern jazz piano, was born, as was the forerunner of the NCAA, the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States.

* On this day in 1922, Stan Lee, the great American comic book writer, was born.

* On this day in 1937, Composer Maurice Ravel died in Paris.

* On this day in 1945, Congress officially recognized the Pledge of Allegiance.

* On this day in 1948, The Douglas DC-3 airliner NC16002, en route from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Miami, Florida, disappeared in the area known as the Bermuda Triangle.

* On this day in 1954, both the actor Denzel Washington, and professional wrestler Lanny Poffo, were born.

So was I.

Closer to the present, "Sal" and I are packed and ready to head back to Civilization As We Know It, but tonight there's a little soireé at Cottingham Retirement Community. It's in my honor, but no one's admitting it. Our family never was one to make a fuss out of birthdays. But in my case, they'll make an exception.

They're really swell. I might come back again.

(IMAGE 1: The Massacre of the Innocents at Bethlehem, 1488, by Matteo di Giovanni. IMAGE 2: The author, January 1955, in Cleveland, Ohio, from the Alexander Family Album. H/T to Patricia Alexander Drybala.)

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