On this day in 1777 Captain James Cook “discovered” the largest Atoll by land area in the world. He named it Christmas Island. It is now called Kiritimati and if you know anything about South Seas Pidgin you will recognize that the modern name is simply a native rendering of “Christmas”.
I place “discovered” in parentheses for good reason. Cook was by no means the first to chart the island. The earliest evidence we have is from the Spanish in 1537 and was named Acea. It was uninhabited when discovered by both the Spanish and by the British, but the British name stuck.
There are many examples throughout history of someone discovering or inventing something, only to be sidelined by a rival who marketed the discovery better. Even recording the discovery is not enough. You need to make it relevant and memorable to your audience. Discoveries need to be branded as well as patented.
Christmas Eve: My Mother Dressing; by Toi Derricotte
My mother was not impressed with her beauty;
once a year she put it on like a costume,
plaited her black hair, slick as cornsilk, down past her hips,
in one rope-thick braid, turned it, carefully, hand over hand,
and fixed it at the nape of her neck, stiff and elegant as a crown,
with tortoise pins, like huge insects,
some belonging to her dead mother,
some to my living grandmother.
Sitting on the stool at the mirror,
she applied a peachy foundation that seemed to hold her down, to trap her,
as if we never would have noticed what flew among us unless it was weighted and bound in its mask.
Vaseline shined her eyebrows,
mascara blackened her lashes until they swept down like feathers;
her eyes deepened until they shone from far away.
Now I remember her hands, her poor hands, which, even then were old from scrubbing,
whiter on the inside than they should have been,
and hard, the first joints of her fingers, little fattened pads,
the nails filed to sharp points like old-fashioned ink pens,
painted a jolly color.
Her hands stood next to her face and wanted to be put away, prayed
for the scrub bucket and brush to make them useful.
And, as I write, I forget the years I watched her
pull hairs like a witch from her chin, magnify
every blotch—as if acid were thrown from the inside.
But once a year my mother
rose in her white silk slip,
not the slave of the house, the woman,
took the ironed dress from the hanger—
allowing me to stand on the bed, so that
my face looked directly into her face,
and hold the garment away from her
as she pulled it down.