The Best of Andy Rooney

(This classic Andy Rooney column was originally published Dec. 24, 1987.)

Bells are ringing like mad and shoppers are flooding the stores, so I guess it's not too early anymore to talk about Christmas.

Following are a few things you may not have known about Christmas, and several things you know but may like to be reminded of:

-- You do know what a manger is, don't you? It's the trough or box from which horses eat their grain or hay. The shape of a manger makes an ideal emergency crib or cradle for a baby.

-- Some rhymes and phrases have become part of our common knowledge for reasons that are hard to understand. "'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse." We all know and like that silly little bit of poetry written by Clement Moore in "A Visit from St. Nicholas." The poem was originally was printed in the Troy (N.Y.) Sentinel, but if someone wrote the same lines today and sent them to the local newspaper and got them printed on the letters page, I don't think they'd catch on and become immortal.

-- It was Dec. 25, 1776, when George Washington crossed the Delaware to lead his troops against the Hessians fighting as mercenaries for the British during the Revolutionary War. It was a terrible way to spend Christmas, but the next day Washington's men captured 1,000 Hessian soldiers, so it made it all worthwhile.

-- For 20 years, I've used what's called a "Phillips Brooks" calendar. Phillips Brooks was a clergyman who died in 1893, and he must have been quite a guy. He wrote: "O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by."

The first of the year is going to be a sad day for me, though, because, for the first time, the Samuel Ward Co. of Boston is not publishing a Phillips Brooks calendar.

The calendar is unique, because the days of each week are listed in a column, from top to bottom, instead of across. In other words, on a Phillips Brooks calendar, all the Mondays are in one line across, all the Tuesdays on the next line across, and so on.

-- In my dictionary, "myrrh" and "frankincense" each has the same definition: "an aromatic gum from a small African tree."

-- The earliest traces of a Dec. 25 celebration predate Christ by several hundred years. Historians think the Romans celebrated the day as a victory over darkness because they thought it was the day following the shortest day of the year. They missed by two days. The exact date of Christ's birth is unknown for certain.

-- Years ago, I bought a book called "Folklore from Adams County Illinois." It must list every old wives' tale there ever was, and it has lots of sayings about Christmas: "A Christmas gift of an umbrella will break up a courtship." "It is unlucky to kill a fly on Christmas." "Never sew or knit between Christmas and the fourth day of the new year." "The one who on Christmas Day is the first to say 'Merry Christmas' will have good luck throughout the year." "When there is snow on the ground at Christmas, there will be fewer deaths that year."

It's depressing to consider that there were people who actually believed these things, and even more depressing to realize there are people today who believe comparable absurdities. Other than that, though, I hope you have a good Christmas.

It's my favorite day of the year and I hope it's yours. If there's anything better than Christmas, it's the day it's over.

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