Why Do We Say “Merry" Christmas?
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We say “Happy” Birthday, New Year, Thanksgiving, Easter and lots of other holidays. But Christmas is the only “Merry” greeting. The answer lies in the tradition of drinking alcohol at Christmas. “Merry” used to mean “tipsy” or “drunk” and the custom of getting drunk at Christmas goes back to the 4th century.

- 324 A.D. Early Christians celebrated Easter only. Pope Liberius added Christmas to the church calendar and set the date December 25. The idea was to attract more converts who liked to celebrate the Roman winter festival Saturnalia when houses were decorated with evergreens and everybody played games, gave gifts and partied.
- Middle Ages. Christmas was celebrated as a rowdy party with dancing, drinking and sexual revelry.
- The Reformation. In the 1500s Protestants banned the wild festival of Christmas, but Catholics partied on.
- The Restoration. In England the Puritans banned Christmas when they seized power in 1640. When the monarchy was restored in 1660, Christmas made a comeback. So did the drinking and revelry.
- 1844. Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol, a novel where Ebenezer Scrooge says, “Merry Christmas!”
- Temperance Movement. In the late 1800s in England, women campaigned against drinking alcohol at Christmas. They proposed doing away with the tipsy “Merry” and replacing it with “Happy.” To this day the English and Irish say “Happy Christmas.”

3 Reasons Why it's Still in the Curriculum

*Featured Artist: @trishalyonsart

Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage has always been way ahead of its time.  That’s one reason the book has never been out of print since it was first published in 1894. The novel has also been required reading in middle school and high school for over a hundred years. Set in the American Civil War, Crane’s novel is so realistic that battle descriptions are like live tweets from the front lines. The novel is all the more remarkable because Crane did not fight in the Civil War or any war. He was born 6 years after the Civil War ended.  He wrote the book when he was 24. The magazine and newspaper accounts he read of battles were dry and factual. As a writing exercise Crane decided to create emotional passages that describe how soldiers feel before, during, and after battle. Crane wrote in a style totally different from the conventional style of 1894. The result is a novel that still seems modern and unique. Here are 3 reasons why The Red Badge of Courage is still in the curriculum: 

  1. Entry-level Classic. The low reading level (Grade 6) makes Red Badge easy to read while exposing readers to complex themes and sophisticated literary style. Young readers have to build up vocabulary, reading comprehension, and experience with figurative language before diving into adult fiction. Red Badge is a good start. The book provides a solid bridge between young adult fiction and the more challenging adult classics. Readers first must learn to interpret irony, symbolism, and literary devices before tackling the English classics of Dickens, Hardy, and the Brontes, and the American classics of Twain, Steinbeck, Faulkner, and Hemingway. Red Badge is a good basic introduction to adult literature. 

  2. Universal Themes. Red Badge explores what war feels like to a young recruit. The book could be about a soldier in any war who experiences courage, bravery, heroism, loyalty, and survival in the face of dehumanizing forces outside an individual’s control. Red Badge is not a historical novel full of events, dates, and battle strategies. Instead Crane zeroes in on the feelings of the soldiers who are portrayed as victims of war. The characters in Red Badge do not spout political ideology or religious beliefs. They speak of home, family, uncertainty, fear, and survival. 

  3. Modern Style. Red Badge also serves as an introduction to modern style.  Sentences are short and descriptive. Modern literary devices used in the book include flashback and stream of consciousness. The emotional and psychological reactions of characters are exposed. Crane’s descriptions of battle are surrealistic. Examples include: Tents sprang up like strange plants. Camp fires, like red, peculiar blossoms, dotted the night. The red sun was pasted in the sky like a wafer. The trees began softly to sing a hymn of twilight. The youth could see the two flags shaking with laughter amid the smoke remnants. The moon had been lighted and hung in a treetop.

Download the Study Guide Now: The Red Badge of Courage: Movie Version

Frankenstein: Movie Version

Find the recommended movie and book here:
DVD: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Streaming: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Book: Frankenstein

Study Guide compares the book Frankenstein by Mary Shelley to the movie Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) The movie changes the plot in places, but this is the most reliable movie version. Robert De Niro as the 8-foot-tall creature is fantastic!

RECOMMENDED MOVIE: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) starring Robert De Niro, Kenneth Branagh, Helena Bonham Carter, and Aidan Quinn. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Produced by Francis Ford Coppola. A TriStar Picture.

The letters to Margaret Saville, Victor’s mother dying of scarlet fever, Justine’s trial, Felix’s sister Agatha and his girlfriend Safie, nature’s power to refresh Victor, the books the creature reads, Victor’s trip to England with Henry, Victor’s laboratory in Scotland, Henry’s murder in Ireland, the creature’s repentance . . .

Victor’s mother dying in childbirth, Victor’s father is a doctor, Waldman’s death, use of Waldman’s brain in the creature, cholera epidemic, the mob that hangs Justine, the flute, Felix’s wife and children, the landlord, the good spirit of the forest, Elizabeth in Ingolstadt, the engagement locket, the murder of Victor’s father, the bodyguards, the ripping out of Elizabeth’s heart, use of Elizabeth’s corpse to make a female creature, Victor’s funeral . . .

Robert Walton’s Arctic expedition, the sighting of the creature on the ice, the rescue of Victor Frankenstein, Justine’s hanging, the old blind man, how the creature learns to read and write, Victor Frankenstein’s journal . . .

Download the Study Guide Now: Frankenstein: Movie Version

Frankenstein Day
8-30 Mary Shelley

FRANKENSTEIN DAY is August 30. Why? Because it’s the birthday of Mary Shelley who was born on August 30, 1797. Shelley began writing the noveFrankenstein when she was 18 years old. The first edition of the classic was published anonymously in 1818 when she was 20.

Mary Shelley’s name appeared on the second edition published in France in 1823.

Download the Study Guide Now: Frankenstein: Movie Version

What’s the Best Movie Version of a Book?
Best Movie Version

There are two: The Old Man and the Sea and The Outsiders.

The Old Man and the Sea (1958) starring Spencer Tracy is true to the book throughout. Turner Classic Movies calls it the “most literal word-for-word rendition of a written story ever filmed.” It was one of the first movies to use bluescreen. The shots of the Cuban coast are authentic, as is the film of a giant marlin breaking the surface of the sea. Tracy was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. Dimitri Tiomkin won for Best Original Score.

The Outsiders (1983) movie is true to the book except for one flaw - the movie omits Chapter 11. Shot on location in the book's authentic setting, Tulsa, Oklahoma, the film features dialogue that is almost word-for-word from the book. The actual ages of the teenage cast adds to the authenticity: C. Thomas Howell (16), Patrick Swayze (29), Matt Dillon (18), Rob Lowe (18), Emilio Estevez (20), Ralph Macchio (21), Diane Lane (17), and Tom Cruise (20).

Two Hollywood legends brought the books to life on the screen. John Sturges directed The Old Man and the Sea and Francis Ford Coppola directed The Outsiders.

Download the Study Guides Now:
The Old Man and the Sea: Movie Version
The Outsiders: Movie Version