Monday, December 24, 2007

The Critics of Christmas and Chili

No, I am not talking about the phonies who want you to think there is a War on Christmas or those who suggest that Santa Died for Your Mastercard. I am talking about newspaper editorial writers (and bloggers) who fancy themselves literary critics and turn their analytic urges upon the prose and poetry of the season. There be many among us.

The Northwest Arkansas Times reflects on Francis Pharcellus Church's now famous reply to Virginia O'Hanlon, published in the New York Sun in 1897 and finds it perfect. "The response her query produced represents probably the best-known editorial in history. Why is that? It's been run and rerun time and again. One might argue that's just because editorial writers want to get off work early just like everyone else, but in reality it's because there's no point in trying to improve on a perfect response. We could write our answer to the same question - 'Is there a Santa Claus?' - but Church's words (written 110 years ago ) pretty much say it all."

The Morning News offers commentary on "Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas," the poem first published by the Troy, New York, Sentinel in 1823 and better known by it's first line, "'Twas the Night before Christmas." They say it doesn't really matter that Don Foster, Professor of English at Vassar College and a famous forensic linguist, determined that the poem was written by Henry Livingston and not by Clement Moore, who claimed credit for authorship. The editorial asks "why would anyone argue those claims of authorship when all such argument can do is enrich a handful of distant relatives and diminish the poem's appeal and its value as an affirmation of the Christmas Spirit? ... We'd have to wonder, after all this time, how much of a difference a change in the author's name would make?"

I have no real complaint with either editorial. I am a bit intrigued, however, by something in the fascinating and inspiring Ozark Profile of Fayetteville's own Rev. Gary Lunsford, the pastor of St. James United Methodist Church, whom I have long admired. According to the article, Lunsford claims that God sent him to Chili, and he went back for more at least once a year during the next nine years. It must have been a loving God and some mighty fine chili.

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