By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department
This poem is also a candidate for the most printed, quoted, illustrated, and parodied poem in America. Most people, age six and above, are so familiar with the poem they can easily supply the words to the first lines:
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the_____________;
Not a creature was stirring, not even a _______________.
If you identified the rhyming words “house,” and “mouse,” you are in a vast majority. The poem is best known as “The Night before Christmas.” It first appeared on the second page of the Sentinel newspaper in Troy (New York) on December 23, 1823. The fifty-six line poem was published anonymously with the title, “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas.” It became an instant success as it spread in papers throughout the region.
Problems of Christmas Past
While “The Night before Christmas” continues to play an active role in shaping our Christmas imagination, this was not always the case. Christmas in early America was not always welcome, for its common celebration was very different from our current practices. In New England, for instance, Christmas was seldom celebrated for the first 200 years of settlement. There was instead a strong social hostility that suppressed, and sometimes outlawed, its observance. Historian Stephen Nissenbaum (University of Massachusetts) explains:
The holiday they suppressed was not what we probably mean when we think of ‘traditional’ Christmas. As we shall see, it involved behavior that most of us would find offensive and even shocking today – rowdy public displays of excessive eating and drinking, the mockery of established authority, aggressive begging (often with the threat of doing harm), even the boisterous invasion of wealthy homes.
It may seem odd that Christmas was ever celebrated in such a fashion. But there was good reason. December was the major ‘punctuation mark’ in the rhythmic cycle of work in northern agricultural societies, a time when there was a minimum of work to be performed. The deep freeze of midwinter had not yet set in; the work of gathering the harvest and preparing for winter was done; and there was plenty of newly-fermented beer or wine as well as meat from freshly slaughtered animals – meat that had to be consumed before it spoiled. St. Nicholas, for example, is associated with the Christmas season chiefly because his ‘name-day,’ December 6, coincided in many European countries with the end of the harvest and slaughter season.
Christmas was a social challenge in early American life. To be sure, there were churches and Christians in America who celebrated December 25th for religious reasons as they commemorated the birth of Christ The very name of the holiday (holy day) recalls Christ’s Mass for a reason. The basis for the practice goes far back to the early church fathers, beginning 200 A.D. and later, meaning that the date for Christmas as being December 25th was not likely the church simply displacing the pagan celebration of Sol Invictus, as is commonly claimed. The early church rationale is clearly otherwise, for their concern was to avoid pagan ways and persecution while reasoning to a common date for Christ’s conception and death. The early church thought Jesus was conceived at the same time of year he died, reflecting a symmetry in the redemption of the world. Since Jesus died during Passover time on the 25 March, they reckoned that Jesus was conceived on March 25. If Jesus were conceived at that time of month, his birth nine months later would be December 25th.
Even though the Christian religious element was certainly a part of Christ-mas, it was largely discounted by the more influential Protestant churches which refused to choose a date for Christ’s birth because the Bible is silent on the issue. Instead of Christmas, many focused their post-harvest celebrations on Thanksgiving and New Year’s. America in the early 1800s was ready for a new Christmas emphasis. This came in part from the poem, “The Night Before Christmas.”
By speaking of the night before Christmas, the poem takes the focus from common concerns with Christmas day itself. Taking one step back, it introduces players on the scene with a delight that ignites the imagination of children and adults alike. The poem simultaneously picks up emerging social developments of the day while also promoting the same. It gleefully reframes Christmas at just the right time, in just the right way, so that Christmas takes an amazing turn which continues through present day.
The Dutch Influence: Enter the Good Cheer of St. Nicholas
“The Night Before Christmas” centers on the activities of a pipe smoking “jolly old elf” identified throughout as St. Nicholas, or St. Nick. “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care / in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.” When St. Nick arrives with a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, the poet remarks, “With a little old driver, so lively and quick / I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.” After the toy laden sleigh is flown atop the roof, to the poet’s surprise, “Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.”
The poet then spends a full thirteen lines describing the appearance and mannerisms of St. Nick, concluding significantly: “He was chubby and plump, a right jolly 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;” The remark about “nothing to dread” is especially appropriate. What a different feeling from Christmas past when reveling home invaders made for tense and cheerless times. In contrast, St. Nicholas leaves gifts in all the stockings, and a parting word affirming the new Christmas tone: “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”
With all the talk about St. Nicholas, it would surprise no one that the poet had connections to Dutch Christmas traditions. In Europe of the 1500s the Protestant Reformation undermined the practice of honoring the saints. Yet Biography.com explains:
St. Nicholas, however, remained an important figure in Holland.
The Dutch continued to celebrate the feast day of St. Nicholas, December 6. It was a common practice for children to put out their shoes the night before. In the morning, they would discover the gifts that St. Nicholas had left there for them. Dutch immigrants brought St. Nicholas, known to them as Sint Nikolaas or by his nickname Sinterklaas, and his gift-giving ways to America in the 1700s.
In America, St. Nicholas went through many transformations and eventually Sinterklaas became Santa Claus. Instead of giving gifts on December 6, he became a part of the Christmas holiday. . . . The cartoonist Thomas Nast added to the St. Nicholas legend with an 1881 drawing of Santa as wearing a red suit with white fur trim. Once a kind, charitable bishop, St. Nicholas had become the Santa Claus we know today.
So the “Night Before Christmas,” focused especially on “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” The real Saint Nicholas was born around 280 A.D. in a Greek speaking area of what is now southern Turkey. He lost his parents early on in an epidemic, but inherited their wealth. As a devout Christian, he took seriously Jesus’ words to “sell what you have and give to the poor.” Even though exiled and imprisoned for his faith during Roman Imperial persecution by Diocletian, Nicholas maintained an amazing generosity to those in need, especially extending concern and protection to children.
One story of his humble generosity tells how he responded to a poor man who had no dowry for his three daughters. This meant the daughters might be sold into slavery. Under the cover of darkness, so as not to broadcast his good deed, Nicholas threw three bags of gold through the poor man’s window, and they landed in and about stockings the three girls left by the fire to dry. This eventually led to hanging stockings “in hopes that St. Nicholas would soon be there.”
In summation, turning again to the Christmas scholar Nissenbaum:
… The next incarnation of Christmas was taking shape. That incarnation engaged powerful new forces that were coming to dominate much of American society in the years after 1820—a heady brew that mixed a rapidly commercializing economy with a culture of domesticity centered on the well-being of children. Both elements were present in a new Christmas poem that soon came to define the rituals of the season in middle-class households throughout the United States. . . . . Although it was set on the night before Christmas, its subject was not the nativity but ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas.’ So it would be Santa Claus, not Jesus of Nazareth, whose influence finally succeeded in transforming Christmas from a season of misrule into a day of quieter family pleasures.
Ironic indeed. Yet there remains a subtle historical perspective unspoken by Nissenbaum. Not to be missed is the further irony of the subtle yet stupendous influence of the little Christ child lying in a manger on the youth from Turkey who became St. Nicholas. The saint who transformed Christmas would honestly say, he himself is a transformer only because of the impression on his heart by the Christ of Christmas Day. And St. Nicholas, both the historical and symbolic, would no doubt continue this hearty good will in wishing,
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”
Note: “The Night Before Christmas” did not remain anonymous for long. It was later attributed to and claimed by Clement Clarke Moore, a scholar in New York City. However, the family of Henry Livingston eventually contested Moore’s claim, saying their father had written the poem, which they and a housekeeper heard at home as early as 1807. There have been detailed studies of word usage and phraseology by two scholars who separately conclude the internal evidence points best to Livingston as the author. But the external evidence has in the past led most to attribute the poem to Moore.
- Martin Garner, The Annotated Night Before Christmas (New York: Summit Books, 1991)
- Stephen Nissenbaum, “Christmas in Early New England, 1620-1820: Puritanism, Popular Culture and the Printed Word” in American Antiquarian Society; First Edition edition (1996).
- See also Stephen Nissenbaum’s Pulitzer Prize Finalist book, The Battle for Christmas: A Social and Cultural History of Our Most Cherished Holiday (Vintage Books, 1997).
- Andrew McGowan, “How December 25 Became Christmas,” Bible Review (December 2002) The article was first republished in Bible History Daily in 2012.
“St. Nicholas” at Biography.com
- “Who is Saint Nicholas?”
- Samira Kawash, “Sugar Plums: They’re Not What You Think They Are” in The Atlantic (Dec. 22, 2010)
By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department
One story of the present holiday season tells of Magi bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the baby Jesus. These Magi from the East were riding a wave of expectation common in the Mediterranean world and beyond. One Roman historian of the day explains:
There had spread over all the Orient an old and established belief, that it was fated at that time for men coming from Judaea to rule the world. (Suetonius, Life of Vespasian, 4.5; similarly other first century historians Tacitus, Histories 5.3 and Josephus, War of the Jews, 6.5).
Indeed, the Magi were bearing gifts fit for a king, but what gifts would properly honor one who is “to rule the world?” The Magi chose gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Of course, gold makes complete sense as a fitting gift, but why would frankincense and myrrh rate so highly?
Frankincense and myrrh are widely available today as “essential oils,” but in the first century world, they were much more essential, especially since the peoples of that time exhibit refined sensitivities in matters of smell and fragrance. One geographer from Greece who sailed around southern Arabia, named Agatharchides, recounts:
A heavenly and indescribable fragrance seems to strike and stir the senses. Even far out from land as you sail past you do not miss the fragrant odors blowing from the myrrh bushes.
The tree that captivated the explorer’s sense of smell, might not appear so impressive in full sight. Myrrh trees are small, thorny, and often just a bush. Like frankincense, myrrh trees grow in places limited to an arid climate like that of southern Arabia.
Yet what matters is the treasure the trees produce. Both frankincense and myrrh are harvested by tapping the inner sap with cuts to the tree bark. The gummy resin oozes out in the form of what some ancients called “tears.” After two weeks for drying, the resin is scraped off the tree, and sent on a long journey aboard camels and ships to crossroads and ports the world over.
What were the Uses of Frankincense and Myrrh?
Frankincense and myrrh had common uses and were even sometimes used together. But frankincense was more fragrant as incense and myrrh more helpful for perfume and skin care.
The top use for both frankincense and myrrh was for religious expression. Religion in our western world is often separated from other aspects of life, whereas religion in the first century world was part of everything and considered to be the most important aspect of all. This includes the wide ranging pagan religions as well as the Judaeo-Christian stream. Since religion was so important, religious expression was essential. And essential to religious expression was offering incense, especially frankincense.
Both frankincense and myrrh were widely used in preparing bodies for burial, which also included groups who cremated their dead. Frankincense in particular was good for masking the odor of a burning body. Emperor Nero burned an entire year of the frankincense harvest in honoring the death of one of his favorite people. That was extravagant indeed.
Each substance had a number of particular uses as well, again sometimes overlapping. The Middle East Institute remarks:
The market for frankincense was unlimited. Whereas other exotic spices and aromatics were luxury items, frankincense, though expensive was a household necessity. For many families throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East frankincense was a basic staple just as things like toothpaste and deodorant are always on the grocery list today.
Among the medical uses for frankincense were: stopping bleeding, cleansing, and functioning as an important ingredient in prescriptions used as antidotes to poisons, help for side and chest pain, and abscesses. It was used as well for a pest repellant and food flavoring.
Myrrh likewise had many functions in the first century world. In addition to the uses common with frankincense, it figured prominently in perfumes and ointments. Furthermore, its medical uses were wide ranging, for both internal and external use. It was a chief ingredient for the Egyptian army’s balm for the healing of sword cuts and wounds. Myrrh is mentioned 54 times in the Hippocratic literature helping alleviate various diseases. It helped with snakebites, coughs, stomach pains, toothaches, and ear aches. It was in demand as a pain killer and antiseptic, and also served as a mouthwash. So while in the first century world, its religious significance was primary, myrrh was helpful in many other ways.
When the parents of baby Jesus saw the Magi bearing frankincense and myrrh, along with gold, they were most certainly not disappointed. The frankincense and myrrh had many more uses than gold, and were fitting gifts of high value and honor.
- Middle East Institute
- Lankester Harding, “Inside Arabia Felix” (fortunate arabia)
- W. Everts, Jr., “The Place of Incense in the Mosaic Ritual,” The Old Testament Student, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Sep., 1884), pp. 29-30. Published by: The University of Chicago Press
- Gus W. Van Beek, “Frankincense and Myrrh,” The Biblical Archaeologist Vol. 23/3 (September 1960), 69-95.
- Erkki Koskenniemi, Kirsi Nisula, and Jorma Toppari, “Wine Mixed with Myrrh,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 27.4 (2005), 379-391.
- Lytton John Musselman, Figs, Dates, Laurel, and Myrrh (Portland: Timber Press, 2007).
By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department
A brother and sister in the county recently decided to get their first library cards at WCPL. Let’s call them Jack and Jill for short. It is not known why they waited so long to get a card, but it turns out that Jill needs a rare and costly book that the library has on the shelf. Using the library for free (that’s right, free) saves Jill from having to buy the book with the equivalent of half her weekly grocery budget.
Soon Jack comes by the library to pick up Jill’s rare book as well the five movies his sister has reserved online from home. Since this is his first time in the library, Jack takes his own tour to see what’s here. He sees a huge collection of childrens’ books, and notices the Launchpads which could occupy his niece for hours. He browses shelves and shelves of entertainment DVDs, locating several older movies that are hard to find. Nearby is the large area holding an extensive fiction collection and Large Print books.
Jack thinks to himself, “Surely, there is more to the library than this,” and he is right. He sees the stairs and heads up to the second floor. Jack uses his card to access the public computers which offer the range of Microsoft Office software as well as photo editing and more. He discovers that there are nonfiction and documentary type DVDs on the second floor and locates two which ignite his interest.
Meanwhile, Jill is thinking about their family dinner party and texts Jack requesting two cookbooks, Rachel Ray’s Look + Cook, and The Best of America’s Test Kitchen Little did Jack know, but the Library has over 50 shelves of cookbooks upstairs, including one entire 27 foot long wall . He finds both books available, with the recipes Jack and Jill both love cooking.
Before leaving, Jack sees the Reference Desk and asks them a question regarding data for his business. Jack makes guitar pedals and wants to be sure he is speaking to every music place within 50 miles. He asks if there is a database that could help him. Jack gets back on the library computer and the librarian takes him through several databases available for library users. Most helpful is Reference USA, which lets him mine and correlate the very information he is seeking.
Jill texts again to remind Jack to schedule time for the winter family trip to Switzerland. This prompts Jack to think how he needs to learn more about his digital camera, while also brushing up on his French and German. To save time, he asks the librarians at the Reference Desk for help. They show him how to take advantage of the several eBook connections through the library, especially READS and Totalboox. With his new card, Jack is able to download on his ipad, David Pogue’s Digital Photography: The Missing Manual. The librarian also shows Jack the photography E-magazines available to check out free through the READS and Zinio electronic libraries. Jack downloads immediately Digital Photography from Zinio.
Jack tells the librarian, that if he ever worried the library would go out of business, he doesn’t now. “Are you as up-to-date on language learning? I need to refresh my French and German.” The Reference Desk librarian shows him the library learning site called PowerSpeak Languages, and gets him into the German and French programs using Jack’s library card as the login.
On his way out, with books, DVDs, and electronic downloads in hand, Jack texts Jill, “There’s a lot here at the library. More than I realized. You say you like the newly designed card; I know you’ll like even more, using it. You’ve got to come check this out!”
By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department
Boris Leonidovich Pasternak (1890-1960) won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 “for his important achievement both in contemporary lyrical poetry and in the field of the great Russian epic tradition.” The Prize was prompted by his crowning achievement, Doctor Zhivago, an epic novel that concludes with a cycle of poetry by the main character weaving together the seasons of nature, love, redemption, and the life of Christ. While Pasternak was “infinitely grateful, touched, proud, surprised, [and] overwhelmed,” at the award, six days later he declined the prize in a telegram: “Due to the resonance caused by my award in the society I belong to, I have to decline the Prize; don’t consider my voluntary refusal an insult.”
Pasternak reflected on this moment in a poem entitled “The Nobel Prize,” which asks, “What sort of dirty trick I’ve done, am I a murderer, a villain? I, who made the whole world crying of my homeland’s beauty.”
Pasternak was neither murderer nor villain; however, his book challenged the presiding Russian-Soviet ideological vision of the world. He was given a strong indication of how Doctor Zhivago would be taken when he received a 10,000 word rejection letter by the Russian magazine New World saying that “the spirit of [the] novel [was] that of non-acceptance of the socialist revolution.” Explaining further, the magazine felt the novel’s main character, Dr. Yuri Zhivago, to be “an essentially immoral man who refuses to do his duty by the people and who is interested only in his own rights, including the alleged privilege of a superman to betray with impunity.”
It is at least obvious that the editorial board read his book. Following are some not so subtle statements that Pasternak made through his main character about those of whom it could be said, “We are the children of Russia’s terrible years”:
- “It turns out that those who inspired the revolution aren’t at home in anything except change and turmoil: that’s their native element.”
- “And do you know why there is this incessant whirl of never-ending preparations? It’s because they haven’t any real capacities, they are ungifted. Man is born to live, not to prepare for life. Life itself – the gift of life – is such a breathtakingly serious thing!”
- “They always talk of ‘remaking life,’ but “people who can talk in this way,” claims Zhivago, “have never known life at all, have never felt its spirit, its soul. For them human existence is a lump of raw material which has not been ennobled by their touch.”
- To Yuri, life “is always out of reach of our stupid theories.”
- “They are so anxious to establish the myth of their infallibility, that they do their utmost to ignore the truth.” Yet, “They had the boastful, dead eternity of bronze monuments and marble columns.” (Series of quotations from the poetry foundation and Geoffrey Hosking)
Pasternak was just as clear in his own poem, “After the Storm.” He closed with this stanza: It is not revolutions and upheavals / which clear the way to a new life / But the revelations, storms and bounties / Of someone’s spirit on fire.
Like other intellectuals at the time of his country’s Revolution, Pasternak held high hopes that change would work for a new and better Russia. But life 40 years “after the storm” gave him such extended and overwhelming evidence against the socialist utopia, that he went from disappointment to disillusionment to a “new birth” of sorts that included his taking seriously once again his Christianity. Pasternak was part of the intellectuals who could be called “pre-Soviet; post-Marxist.” This helps make sense of two statements Pasternak made during the Doctor Zhivago controversy when he requested his closest loved one to write “that I was born not in the Soviet Union, but in Russia,” while he wrote Premier Krushchev to avoid deportation, with this explanation: “Leaving the motherland will equal death for me. I am tied to Russia by birth, by life and work.”
While Doctor Zhivago was censured in the former Soviet Union, the novel escaped to the West in 1957 through a publisher in Milan, Italy, who refused to return the book “for revisions.” By the next year the novel had been translated into 18 languages, including English.
Meanwhile, The Union of Soviet Writers (of which Pasternak was one of the some 800 members) took swift action. It is important to understand that the Writer’s Union was indoctrinated and in full concert with Soviet Socialist Realism. “Socialist Realism is the officially sanctioned style of art that dominated Soviet painting for 50 years from the early 1930s. The style and content was laid down by the state with the purpose of furthering the goals of socialism and communism. The result was a huge body of work by thousands of artists, the majority of which is stultifyingly boring and which has been mocked in the West ever since as “Girl meets tractor”. (This description of Socialist Realism and policy quote below from http://www.russianartdealer.com/socialist-realism/)
Applying Socialist Realism to literature, The Union of Soviet Writers stated in 1934 that “Socialist Realism is the basic method of Soviet literature and literary criticism. It demands of the artist the truthful, historically concrete representation of reality in its revolutionary development. Moreover, the truthfulness and historical concreteness of the artistic representation of reality must be linked with the task of ideological transformation and education of workers in the spirit of socialism.”
It is hardly surprising that Doctor Zhivago inspired hostility from those committed to the spirit of socialism. One Union representative called Pasternak, “a literary whore, hired and kept in America’s anti-Soviet brothel,” while a government official called him “a pig who has fouled the spot where he eats and cast filth on those by whose labor he lives and breathes.” Not only was Pasternak excommunicated from the Union of Soviet Writers, but some demanded that he be banished from Russia altogether.
Pasternak did not have to leave Russia; however, his being cut off from the Union of Soviet Writers meant that his many translations of the classics into Russian could no longer be published. This made it impossible for him to make a living as a writer. The love of Pasternak’s life, Olga Ivinskaya, said “The easiest way of dealing with intellectuals like us was simply to starve us into submission.” Ironically this did not silence Pasternak, and neither Ivinskaya. Another way of getting to Pasternak, however, was pressuring Ivinskaya. She was taken away to prison in 1950 while pregnant with Pasternak’s child. While there she experienced a miscarriage.
As Pasternak completed the translation of many tragedies of Shakespeare, it seemed his real life was just as tragic. Pasternak’s reaction to times of suffering is formulated, naturally, in poetic verse:
The order of the acts has been schemed and plotted / And nothing can avert the final curtain’s fall / I stand alone / All else is swamped by Pharisaism / To live life to the end is not a childish task.
Yet, Pasternak’s determination to stay the course, is neither simple defiance nor resignation. He expressed, “If there is suffering anywhere, why should not my art suffer and myself with it? I am speaking of the most artistic in the artist . . . of the sacrifice without which art becomes unnecessary.”
The insight of literary critic Mitzi Brunsdale is surely significant here. Explaining the novel’s point of view, she writes:
“Zhivago” itself derives from the Russian verb “to live,” lending irony to the opening scene of the novel, the funeral of Zhivago’s mother: “’Who’s being buried?’ – ‘Zhivago’ [the living one].” The name also has a wealth of religious connotations stemming from the risen Christ’s question in the Orthodox Easter liturgy, “Why seek you the living [zhivago] among the dead?” In his search for truth, the thinking man Yuri Zhivago at first naively embraces revolution as the natural result of the czarist repression of the people, only gradually realizing that enforced collectivization under the Soviets means the spiritual slavery of the very souls it falsely purported to free. The truth at which Yuri Zhivago at last arrives, after his long journey through the revolutions of 1905 and 1917, the savagery of World War I and the Civil War, and the struggle for survival that faced his people during the 1920s, is the old truth of humanity’s youth – that an individual can be fulfilled only by free choice in pursuing his own creativity, his own love, unhampered by political or social stricture.” (from the Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Volume 6, pp. 3464-3465)
Pasternak, “presented Zhivago’s inability to influence his own fate not as a fault, but as a sign that he was destined to become an artistic witness to the tragedy of his age. The author closely identified Zhivago’s predicament with that of the suffering Christ.” (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/zhivago/ei_pasternak.html)
Professor Brunsdale ends her critical consideration of Pasternak by refusing to ignore the strong religious aspect of Pasternak’s work. The cycle of poetry concluding Doctor Zhivago speaks not only of nature and love, but also the meaning of life and the life of Christ. She explains: “Pasternak exercised . . . intense awareness of all cosmic and human reality as ‘life in Christ,’ and the consequent plunge into love as the only dynamic and creative force which really honors this ‘Life’ by creating itself anew in Life’s – Christ’s – image. In the glorious healing lesson of Doctor Zhivago, that modern man’s renewal lies in identification of his sufferings with those of his Savior, undistracted by selfish materialistic desire, the poet of Doctor Zhivago thus is “the living one” against whom godless history cannot prevail.”
In 1987 Pasternak was posthumously reinstated to the Soviet Writer’s Union. In 1988, thirty years after its censure, Doctor Zhivago was published in Russia. The New World, which had rejected Doctor Zhivago, went on to publish Solzhenitsyn. Pasternak’s house was made into a museum. In 1989, Pasternak’s son accepted the Nobel Prize on behalf of his father.
Geoffrey Hosking (from The Cambridge History of Russian Literature), observes, Pasternak’s “novel and its accompanying poems . . . were to be very influential, for they helped to revive a concern with the human personality, with morality and with religion, which had been largely submerged within the majestic state sponsored collective certainties of the Soviet era.”
It is only appropriate to let Pasternak conclude with his poetry, the last three stanzas of HOLY WEEK from the “Poems of Yuri Zhivago.” Pasternak became the suffering artist he had mentioned, with a profound artistic message for his Motherland. His message neither suppressed nor submerged the suffering, but rather offered the highest social realism, transformation, and hope for the Russian people he loved so much.
March scatters handfuls of the snow; Like alms among the lame,
As though a man had carried out
The holy Ark outside the church,
And gave its all unto the poor.
They sing until the sunrise hour.
Then, having wept their fill,
Their chants of the Psalms and Acts
Flow with an air serene
Into an empty lamplit street.
All creatures hear the voice of spring
In the still of night, believing
That when good weather comes
Death itself shall be destroyed
By the travail of the Resurrection.
- “Boris Pasternak” by Mitzi M. Brunsdale in Critical Survey of Long Edition, Fourth Edition (Hackensack, NJ: Salem Press, 2010, 10 volumes) Volume 6: pp. 3460-3468.
- The Cambridge History of Russian Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1992)
- http://faculty.webster.edu/corbetre/personal/reading/pasternak-poems.html (based on The Poems of Doctor Zhivago. Hallmark, 1967. Translated from the Russian by Eugene M. Kayden)
Welcome to September, also known as National Library Card Sign-up Month. And yes, I know that it feels like no matter where you go, everyone’s always trying to sell you something. But don’t worry, I’m not going to try and sell anything, because library cards are FREE! Bonus: we’ll also SAVE you money! Typically, all you have to do to get a library card is live in the area. And while there are thousands of books you can borrow, there’s also free computer use with access to software such as Microsoft Office and Abbey Finereader, amazing programs, use of highly useful databases, ebooks and audiobooks, and so much more. Patrons of the library tell us they get much more from their cards than the privilege of checking out books.
Here are 12 comments we hear from time to time:
- I didn’t know my card could give me free online magazines from Zinio. That saves me going to the newsstand.
- You mean my card gives me free access to the Reference USA research database. That saves me money on my business prospecting plans.
- I like being able to get an older DVD free that I can’t even find in Redbox.
- Rosetta Stone was too expensive for me at the time, but your free online language program, Powerspeak Languages, helped me get ready to visit Spain.
- You mean I don’t have to pay $2.00 an hour to be on the computer? That’s neat you have free access.
- I like being able to use the library computer software. I don’t have a photo editing program so I used the basic Irfanview and worked my way into the more advanced Gimp photo editor, both on the library computer. I also used the library Powerpoint program to set up my presentation.
- We needed to scan our personal documents; the library made it easy, and it was free.
- I thought you only had a few electronic books to download on my ipad. I had been paying for ebooks the last two years. I will now be saving by using READS.
- We were going on a trip and wanted to listen to an audiobook. Most of the time we check out the library’s books on CD. But we just learned there are free electronic audio books too. We downloaded three and enjoyed them as we traveled across the country.
- I come to the library, check out the new books, and like the access to your HP printers. They are better than mine at home.
- I have a limit on my data downloads, so I use the free library Wifi to update my tablet.
- We recently got to visit the Dyer Observatory on the special night for library card holders. A great program.
By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department
What’s the Big Deal about the New Study on Christianophobia in the U.S.?
Two professors of Sociology just published their rigorous research on whether there is what may be called Christianophobia in America. They define Christianophobia as unreasonable hatred or fear of Christians. Their book: So Many Christians, So Few Lions, is printed by a mainstream academic publisher. This is significant in that the study is coming from the professional academic world versus what otherwise might be written off as incidental musings over isolated occurrences.
Isn’t this a biased study since at least one of the professors is a Christian?
No more than the fact that Yancey is black means he cannot say anything scientifically valid about racism. He has done significant studies on racism, and now, on Christianophobia.
So what did the authors, George Yancey and David Williamson, find?
First, they are finding that it is conservative Christians who are singled out. “Anti-Christian hostility is a phenomenon that conservative Christians have to deal with, but Christians in general usually escape this level of animosity” (p. 33).
Second, the authors observe : “Surprisingly, religious groups in general experience more animosity than racial groups” (p. 33; “As we have already seen in the … data, that animosity toward Christians is more prevalent than animosity toward people of color … “ p. 123, bold mine).
Third, a personal observation is that their work is based on a large national survey which helps toward having a valid research sample versus the common unscientific type polls by news groups we hear every day which tend to work with 1) too small a sample of people to draw larger conclusions, while often 2) self-selecting participants that already lean the way they hope the survey turns out (thus sample bias)!.
Yancey and Williams summarize what they have learned thus far.
An unknown percentage of individuals hate, mistrust, and/or fear conservative Christians to an extensive degree. We know from the information provided by the American National Election Survey [2012; involving 3,067 respondents] that their number is not likely miniscule since nearly a third of the country feels substantial relative hostility toward conservative Christians. The extent of relative hostility directed toward this group is at least as high as that directed at Muslims; thus those concerned about Islamophobia in the United States have as much reason to be concerned about this relative hostility toward conservative Christians—especially since those with this antipathy are more likely to be wealthy, educated, and white, thus to have greater per capita social power than the average American.
Our deeper exploration through qualitative data [open ended questionnaires with 3,577 reponspondents] indicates that at least some with relative hostility toward conservative Christians despise what they see as this group’s intolerance and homophobia. They [those exhibiting anti-Christian hostility] rely on stereotypes every bit as potent as those based on race, ethnicity, sex, or sexual preference. They show a personal mistrust of conservative Christians and consider them evil; as the opposite of respect and tolerance, this can be seen as bigotry. They fear Christians will take over our society and think of them as mindless sheep led by manipulative leaders. This dehumanization leaves some of them open to a societal rules that disparately impact conservative Christians. (p. 109).
Who is it that holds this animosity toward conservative Christians?
Basically, the hostility is rooted in an elite subculture involving those who may be generally described as: highly educated, white, wealthy, not highly religious, and identified as progressives (defined as an understanding of morality that minimizes traditional religious justifications and is determined by what the individual decides is best for him- or herself).
According to this elite subgroup, what is wrong with Christians?
Co-author George Yancey answered this question in an interview on the book with the Christian Post. He responds:
“In the minds of many of the respondents Christians are ignorant, intolerant and stupid individuals who are unable to think for themselves. The general image they have of Christians is that they are a backward, non-critical thinking, child-like people who do not like science and want to interfere with the lives of everyone else.
But even worse, they see ordinary Christians as having been manipulated by evil Christian leaders and will vote in whatever way those leaders want. They believe that those leaders are trying to set up a theocracy to force everybody to accept their Christian beliefs. So, for some with Christianophobia, this is a struggle for our society and our ability to move toward a progressive society. Christians are often seen as the great evil force that blocks our society from achieving this progressive paradise.”
What’s the big deal—how can such a small group be a problem for a Christian majority?
The concern arises from this being an elite small group with great formative power in our society due to wealth, along with influential positions in education, government, law courts, entertainment, journalism and media. The group forms an influential, and sometimes censoring, core of the “talking class” in our world. Yancey explains: “If you want to get elected to political office, then atheists are at a disadvantage since more people do not like them. But if you want to get a higher education, then you will run into a lot more people with power who hate Christians than who hate atheists.”
How are the findings on Christianophobia helpful?
Firstly, the study validates the experience of Christians who encounter anti-religious bigotry. There is a tendency, even among Christians, to minimize reports of those who experience anti-Christian hostility. I recall one Christian commenting on the movie God’s Not Dead, which follows the experience of a college freshman who encounters blatant and dogmatic attacks on his faith from his Philosophy professor. Her comment was, “The premise is so lame. That does not happen.” Unfortunately, this Christian is socially desensitized to the plight of her fellow believers. It really does happen, and is not merely accidental to academic life. It even happened to the present writer who was shocked speechless by one Professor of Anthropology’s hostile off the wall rant directed his way. Fortunately, a Jewish Anthropology graduate teaching assistant took up for me and redeemed the day. The study by Yancey and Williamson puts all this in reliable perspective. There is measurable anti-Christian hostility in our society.
Secondly, it is a matter of being truthful about what is going on in our time and place. The study documents “that some level of Christianophobia is present among certain powerful subcultures in our society. This helps us understand some actions in our society.”
Thirdly, in Yancey’s words: “People do not like to admit that they are biased or bigoted but often those disaffinities come out in other ways. Because of the attention rightly paid to bigotry . . . there is social pressure on those who take actions that may harm those groups to engage in introspection to make sure they are not being unfair.
I have seen a dearth of such introspection by those who make decisions that may harm Christians. I hope that this work will encourage such critical thinking among those with Christianophobia and perhaps help some to confront a bigotry they did not realize they possessed.”
Give me a good illustration of what’s going on in America!
The last question for Yancey during his Christian Post interview offers a helpful illustration. (I used editorial license to convert one phrase from crass to non-offensive.)
CP: Sociologist Peter Berger famously remarked that if Sweden is the most secular country and India is the most religious country, America has become a nation of Indians ruled by Swedes. [Berger] added how many of the problems of America have to do with the fact that the Indians have become increasingly angry at the Swedes. In some ways, your book seems to present a correlate to that: the Swedes have become increasingly angry at the Indians. Do you agree?
Yancey: I think that is a great way to think about it. I would put it this way: Because of their numbers the Indians historically had a lot of political and cultural power in our society. They may not be in the elite political positions but the Swedes in those positions could not afford to ignore what they wanted. The Swedes for years documented the excesses and biases of the Indians. Over time, they begin to look down on the Indians. But they also gained educational and cultural power and begin to ignore the concerns of the Indians. But the Swedes never considered that many of the social processes that produce bigotries in the Indians also can produce bigotries in themselves. They became quite adept at seeing social dysfunctions in the Indians but not in themselves. While part of the reason for this book is to provide some insight to protect the Indians, I also see it useful for helping the Swedes engage in the introspection they need to deal with their own failings and to live by their own stated values.
For more information, besides reading their book, there is a three-part interview with George Yancey starting here:
** As always, the opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and in no way reflect the philosophies or principles of Williamson County Public Library, its staff members, their parents, children, friends, or housepets.
The beginning of May is set aside for observing Choose Privacy Week. This is a time we ask our patrons to consider ways to protect their private information while using the internet, whether in the library, on the go, or at home.
It’s no secret why privacy is a pressing concern these days. As more and more people across the world spend more and more time on the internet, some users make a career of stealing personal data. This causes major complications for those affected. In just the year 2008, identity theft cost Americans $54 billion in loss. Further, the average amount of time victims spent repairing the damage done by the creation of new fraudulent accounts is 165 hours. Protecting our private information is important.
What are some basic tips to follow? Here are a few from the site OnGuardOnLine.
- Use Security Software That Updates Automatically
- Treat Your Personal Information Like Cash
- Check Out Companies to Find Out Who You’re Really Dealing With
- Give Personal Information Over Encrypted Websites Only
- Protect Your Passwords
- Back Up Your Files
What are some basic privacy tips to remember when I’m using the computer in the library? The American Library Association suggests the following:
- Delete you browsing history
- Log Out of all accounts
- “Remember me” NOT: Make sure the remember me function is NOT enabled on a public computer.
- Look for the “s”: Make sure sites are security enabled. Look for websites with https:// or “shttp://” which means the site takes extra measures to secure your information. Http:// is not secure.
- Get savy about Wi-Fi hotspots: to protect your information do not conduct personal transactions requiring person data such as banking on Wi-Fi hotspots or public computers. Wait to conduct these on a private home computer.
I’ll be providing more tips soon to help people keep their information safe. In the meantime, stay safe.
By Lance Hickerson, Reference Assistant
- What if I need access to a good source of information like the World Book Encyclopedia?
- Is there an encyclopedia that plays to the level of younger students?
- Is there a place I can find games for children to play?
- Is there a place for phonics? I want my child to practice sounding out words and practicing phonics skills.
- Where can I go to get Homework Help?
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No problem. Go to the free online source on the Kids Page from the Tennessee Library Association called TEL4U. Check out the Home Screen below which shows links to eBooks, Homework Helpers, Look it Up, Tennessee State History, and Games & Activities. This is especially for grades K – 5. (For older children notice the Teenagers link.) The easiest way to get into the World Book Encyclopedia is to click on Look It Up and then choose World Book Student. Enter a word or phrase to find articles on what interests you.
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2. Is there an encyclopedia that plays to the level of younger students?
Younger students, K thru 2nd grade might enjoy getting to their age friendly Encyclopedia through eBooks and the Early World of Learning. To get to the Encyclopedia, Click on eBooks and open the first eBook called “Early World of Learning.”
The link opens into a delightful Early World of Learning page with things to Read, Play, Watch, and to Print & Do. These are full of information and of interest. And don’t miss clicking on the frog. But to get to the illustrated Encyclopedia, go to the bottom left of the Early World of Learning page and click on Worldbook Products.
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From the TEL4U homepage click on eBooks. Then choose Starfall.com.
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What’s in the databases for homework help?
B) The World Book Kids is a geat place to start. See info above on encyclopedias.
C) The Learning Express Library is very popular with adults, but it also has homework practice in math skills and reading comprehension for elementary students.
By Lance Hickerson, Reference Library Assistant
Holidays afford us time to relax, enjoy shows, catch up with friends, and share some of our favorite cuisine with special folks in our life. Funny thing, after those times of good cheer and catching up, one common post-festivity urge reported is the desire to stop into the library to simply browse around. Unfortunately, for many of these holiday moments, the library is officially closed. But please know, the back door is open. By this we mean the cyber door to all the library’s electronic offerings. Even on those “closed” holidays, the library still has some wonderful things available.
Here are just a few suggestions…
- Check out ebooks and audiobooks with READS!
- Browse online magazines and stream free independent movies.
- Explore Career Transitions if you’re thinking about new career opportunities.
- Learn a new word a day with Oxford Reference Online.
- Take a virtual tour of great artists without leaving home, through the helpful websites!
And there is a lot of online fun for children as well:
Online Fun Suggestions!
- Read digital picture books with our TumbleBooks Call us now for the id and password.
- Listen to an e-audiobook for teens and children via OneClick. All you need is your lilbrary card!
- Borrow an ebook via READS for Kids. Use the cute interface for young readers that lets them borrow chapter books and more.
- Explore new subjects in Kids Infobits with articles and reference books for young people.
- Play games and more in TEL4U.
- Learning can be fun for young ones with World Book Online. Try the Early World of Learning or one of the boxes labeled ‘Kids’.
So just remember, even though we are closed, the back (cyber) door is always open.