The Thing About Today – December 14

December 14, 2020
Day 349 of 366

December 14th is the 349th day of the year. It is Monkey Day, an unofficial international holiday celebrating monkeys and “all things simian”, including other non-human primates such as apes, tarsiers, and lemurs.

In the United States, today is “celebrated” as National Bouillabaisse Day and National Alabama Day.

Historical items of note:

  • In 1650, Anne Greene was hanged at Oxford Castle in England for infanticide, having concealed an illegitimate stillbirth. The following day, she revived in the dissection room and, being pardoned, lived until 1659.
  • In 1782, the Montgolfier brothers first tested an unmanned hot air balloon in France. It floated nearly 2 kilometers (1.2 miles).
  • In 1851, novelist and short story writer Mary Tappan Wright was born.
  • In 1896, the Glasgow Underground Railway was opened by the Glasgow District Subway Company.
  • In 1900, Max Planck presented a theoretical derivation of his black-body radiation law.
  • In 1902, the Commercial Pacific Cable Company laid the first Pacific telegraph cable, spanning from San Francisco to Honolulu.
  • In 1911, Roald Amundsen’s team, comprising of himself, Olav Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, and Oscar Wisting, became the first to reach the South Pole.
  • In 1918, the first United Kingdom general election in which women were permitted to vote occurred.
  • In 1940, Plutonium, specifically 238Pu, was first isolated at Berkeley, California.
  • In 1948, Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann were granted a patent for their cathode-ray tube amusement device, the earliest known interactive electronic game.
  • Also in 1948, actress Dee Wallace Stone was born.
  • In 1954, actor James Horan was born.
  • In 1962, NASA’s Mariner 2 became the first spacecraft to fly by Venus.
  • In 1965, actor, director, and screenwriter Ted Raimi was born.
  • In 1969, English-Irish actress Natascha McElhone was born.
  • In 1985, Wilma Mankiller took office as the first woman elected to serve as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.
  • In 1988, actress and singer Vanessa Hudgens was born.
  • In 1993, Philadelphia, one of the first mainstream films about AIDS, premiered.
  • In 2012, twenty-eight people, including the gunman, were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
  • In 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh episode in the Skywalker Saga, premiered.
  • In 2017, The Walt Disney Company announced that it would acquire 21st Century Fox, including the 20th Century Fox movie studio, for $52.4 billion.

December 14th is Forty-seven Rōnin Remembrance Day in Sengaku-ji, Tokyo, Japan.

The revenge of the forty-seven rōnin, also known as the Akō incident or Akō vendetta, is an 18th-century historical event in Japan in which a band of rōnin (leaderless samurai) avenged the death of their master. The incident has since become legendary.

The story tells of a group of samurai who were left leaderless after their daimyō (feudal lord) Asano Naganori was compelled to perform seppuku (ritual suicide) for assaulting a court official named Kira Yoshinaka, whose title was Kōzuke no suke. After waiting and planning for a year, the rōnin avenged their master’s honor by killing Kira. They were then obliged to commit seppuku for the crime of murder.

This true story was popularized in Japanese culture as emblematic of the loyalty, sacrifice, persistence, and honor that people should display in their daily lives. The popularity of the tale grew during the Meiji era, during which Japan underwent rapid modernization, and the legend became entrenched within discourses of national heritage and identity.

Fictionalized accounts of the tale of the forty-seven rōnin are known as Chūshingura. The story was popularized in numerous plays, including in the genres of bunraku and kabuki. Because of the censorship laws of the shogunate in the Genroku era, which forbade portrayal of current events, the names were changed. While the version given by the playwrights may have come to be accepted as historical fact by some, the first Chūshingura was written some 50 years after the event, and numerous historical records about the actual events that predate the Chūshingura survive.

The bakufu’s censorship laws had relaxed somewhat 75 years after the events in question in the late 18th century when Japanologist Isaac Titsingh first recorded the story of the forty-seven rōnin as one of the significant events of the Genroku era. To this day, the story remains popular in Japan, and each year on December 14th, Sengakuji Temple, where Asano Naganori and the rōnin are buried, holds a festival commemorating the event.

The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

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