Christmas Stories: The Night Before Christmas

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The Night Before Christmas was first published as “A Visit from St. Nicholas”.

The more popular title is from the first line of the poem, “Twas the night before Christmas…”

The poem tells the story that “On Christmas Eve night, while his wife and children sleep, a father awakens to noises outside his house. Looking out the window, he sees Santa Claus (Saint Nicholas) in an airborne sleigh pulled by eight reindeer. After landing his sleigh on the roof, the saint enters the house through the chimney, carrying a sack of toys with him. The father watches Santa filling the children’s Christmas stockings hanging by the fire, and laughs to himself. They share a conspiratorial moment before Santa bounds up the chimney again. As he flies away, Santa wishes everyone a “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

At the time he wrote the story, Christmas was becoming more popular as a holiday.  By having St. Nicholas arrive the night before Christmas, Moore made sure not to tread on the religious importance and true meaning of the holy day.

“According to legend, “A Visit” was composed by Clement Clarke Moore on a snowy winter’s day during a shopping trip on a sleigh. His inspiration for the character of Saint Nicholas was a local Dutch handyman as well as the historical Saint Nicholas.”

Moore claimed to write the poem during Christmas 1822 for his six children at the time.  {He and his wife would eventually have three more children.}

The poem was published unanimously on December 23, 1823.  The poem was sent in by a friend of Moore and published numerous times with no name attached.  “Reportedly, a relative copied the verses during her stay at the Moore home, from which a copy was made by Sarah Harriet Butler (a friend). Sarah’s father, Rev. David Butler, was apparently so impressed with the poem that he gave it to the editor of the Sentinel. Once the poem was printed, it was an immediate success and would appear in publications across the country in subsequent years.”


Clement Clarke Moore

In 1837, Clement Clarke Moore claimed authorship of the story.  In 1844, Moore included the poem in a publication of one of his own books at the encouragement of his children.  He was a professor, best known for his serious works, and at first did not want to be associated with something so unscholarly.  His conception of St. Nicholas was borrowed from his friend, Washington Irving.

 “A Visit from St. Nicholas” eventually was set to music and has been recorded by many artists. Over the years, linguistic changes have been made to keep up with the times.  For example, ere became as.

Four handwritten copies of the poem still exist.  Three copies are held in museums and one by a private collector.

The family of Henry Livingston, Jr. has always claimed their father was the author and read the story to them each Christmas Eve.   The debate lingers between scholars if Moore or Livingston are the true authors.  What we do know if Moore claimed authorship and is considered the author.

The story is largely responsible for how we view the concept and image of Santa Claus.

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