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When we think about Christmas and its many traditions, we may find ourselves wondering just how long they have been with us.
Christmas carols, for example, date back to the 1400s, and the decorated Christmas tree came just a short while later; in fact, historians believe it celebrates its 500th anniversary this year, after beginning in Northern Europe and eventually spreading to our country during the Revolutionary War.
St. Nicholas has long been revered as well, and was one of the first people Christopher Columbus honored when he named landmarks on that maiden voyage to the New World in 1492.
In Kentucky’s early history, Christmas was not always celebrated on December 25th in some regions, but on January 6th instead, to mark the religious feast of the Magi, the wise men who had traveled to Bethlehem. This eventually became known as Old Christmas.
In those first years, Christmas was festive in more ways than one. With many receiving guns and ammunition as gifts, the day was often the busiest of the year for hunting.
Christmas morning was also the time when one of the Commonwealth’s most famous citizens – Ephraim McDowell – made history. On that date in 1809, he earned the title “Father of Abdominal Surgery” after removing a 22.5-pound ovarian tumor from a Green County woman. The surgery – which took just 25 minutes and was done before anesthesia existed – made him a pioneer in medicine, and his patient, who sang hymns to distract herself from the pain, would go on to live another 32 years.
As we ready for Christmas morning this year, Kentucky can rightfully enjoy a few presents of its own around the tree.
The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a private organization that has long been an advocate for our schools, recently reported that our fourth and eighth graders now rank among the top 20 states in reading.
By 2020, we should see other academic areas cross that threshold, including fourth grade math scores and the percentage of high school seniors going on to college. Helping that along is the fact that so many of our teachers are nationally board-certified, a prestigious title that is not easy to obtain; I’m proud to say that only five states saw a greater total qualify this year than Kentucky.
Last week, we got another dose of good news when we learned that our budget continues to grow about as expected, further removing the likelihood of additional cuts. Key indicators show corporate profits rising steadily while the coal-severance fund is up more than 12 percent during the first five months of the fiscal year when compared to the same period in 2009.
Last year’s effort by the General Assembly to spur the economy is paving the way for some of the successes we are now seeing. More than 200 companies have gotten preliminary approval under the revised tax incentives we adopted, and if they all carry through with their plans, valued at $2 billion, more than 13,500 jobs would be created and another 4,800 retained. Earlier this month, Ford brought some good cheer of its own when it announced that it would spend $600 million to re-tool its Louisville operations and bring in 1,800 additional jobs.
There is other good news to celebrate as well. Consider that we have long had one of the nation’s cheapest electricity rates and have a higher percentage of homes receiving treated water than all but a handful of states. We’re the top state in aluminum production – one in three cans likely begins its journey here – and we remain one of the safest states, according to the FBI. We’re also believed to be the first state to build a school that, over a calendar year, generates as much energy as it consumes.
At this time of year, it is also certainly worth noting our generosity. Charitable gaming activities alone annually bring in more than $400 million regularly, while a legislative study several years ago indicated that we are very neighborly. That finding was based on a statewide survey showing that nine out of 10 adult Kentuckians said they had more than one non-family member on which they could rely in times of emergency. When we need help the most, it seems, our friends and neighbors are there.
It is with that thought in mind that I want to wish all of you a merry Christmas and hope that an even better new year awaits in 2011.
With the start of next year’s legislative session just days away, it is never too early to let me know your thoughts or concerns on issues affecting the state. To contact me, please write to Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.
You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For the deaf or hard of hearing, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.
Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th House District in the Kentucky General Assembly. He may be reached by writing to Room 351C, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601, or leave a message at (800) 372-7181 – TTY (800) 896-0305.