Twas the Night Before Christmas

A Visit from St. Nicholas

“A Visit from St. Nicholas” more commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas” and “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” is a poem first published anonymously in 1823. It was later attributed to Clement Clarke Moore who claimed authorship in 1837, although some commentators believe it was written by Henry Livingston.
The poem’s descriptions of St. Nicholas did much to establish him as the joyful, plump, toy-bearing Santa Claus of the American Christmas tradition. Some say that the chubby, bewhiskered Dutchman who drove Clement Moore to Greenwich Village to buy his holiday turkey on Christmas Eve in 1822, was the inspiration for his famous character.
The night he wrote it, he read it to his wife and six children and supposedly thought no more about it, but a family friend heard the poem and submitted it to the Sentinel, a newspaper in upstate New York which published it anonymously the following Christmas. It immediately caught the attention and imagination of the state, then the nation, and then the world. Finally, in 1844, he included it in a book. The poem would eventually help define Santa Claus mythology. It’s perhaps the most important source in shaping the physical appearance and ritual behavior of the North Pole gift-giver and would provide inspiration to New York illustrators like Thomas Nast and in the 20th century the Coca-Cola advertising of Haddon Sunblom. Moore is even credited with naming the eight reindeer who power his sleigh :Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixem.

illustration by Thomas Nast

illustration by Thomas Nast

illustration by Thomas Nast

illustration by Thomas Nast

illustration by Thomas Nast

illustration by Thomas Nast

illustration by Thomas Nast

C1900 McLoughlin Bros The Night Before Christmas Chromolithograph

Twas the night before Christmas             

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house 

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; 

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, 

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there; 

The children were nestled all snug in their beds; 

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads; 

And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap, 

Illustration by Watson Davis

Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap, 

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, 

I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter. 

Away to the window I flew like a flash, 

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash. 

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow, 

Gave a lustre of midday to objects below, 

When what to my wondering eyes did appear, 

Illustration by Watson Davis

But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer, 

With a little old driver so lively and quick, 

I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick. 

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came, 

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name: 

“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen! 

On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen! 

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall! 

Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!” 

As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, 

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky; 

Illustration by Watson Davis

So up to the housetop the coursers they flew 

With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too— 

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof 

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof. 

As I drew in my head, and was turning around, 

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound. 

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot, 

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot; 

A bundle of toys he had flung on his back, 

illustration by Jessie Willcox

And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack. 

His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry! 

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry! 

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow, 

And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow; 

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, 

And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath; 

He had a broad face and a little round belly 

That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly. 

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, 

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;

illustration by Jessie Willcox

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head 

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread; 

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, 

And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk, 

And laying his finger aside of his nose, 

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose; 

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, 

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle. 

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight— 

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

 

 

 

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