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On December 23rd, 1823, a newspaper in Troy, New York, published an anonymous poem that has become our vision of the modern Santa Claus. The poem famously starts out, “Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house” – a line that most of us are very familiar with.
While it’s a book I remember from childhood, it’s also the first book my daughter Caitlin, at the tender age of three, ever read back to me verbatim. For those reasons, the poem has always held an air of mystery and amazement for me.
But, do you know the controversy surrounding the poem?— Who really authored the poem?
Credit for the anonymous poem was eventually taken fourteen years later by a Bible scholar, Clement Clarke Moore, in New York City.
However, the children of Henry Livingston Jr., upon discovering Moore’s claim of authorship for a poem they believed their father had written, set about to prove their father was the real author. Henry Livingston Jr. passed away in 1828, five years after the poem was first published. Livingston’s children, Charles and Edwin along with a neighbor child Eliza (who would later marry Charles), claim that their father first read them the story around 1807 saying he had written it just for them.
Descendants of both families continue to insist their candidate wrote the poem.
Independent scholarly analysis by Donald Wayne Foster, Professor of English at Vassar College, and New Zealand scholar MacDonald P. Jackson both believe Livingston to be the more likely candidate for authorship. Jackson states, “Every test, so far applied, associates “The Night Before Christmas” much more closely with Livingston’s verse than with Moore’s.”
On the other hand, historian and document dealer Seth Kaller, who once owned one of Moore’s original manuscripts of the poem, has offered a point-by-point rebuttal of Professor Foster’s linguistic analysis and external findings.
What we do know for sure is, the poem is an original that will continue to entertain and enthrall children – and adults – for years to come.
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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,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the 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 the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it 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 dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top 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 hand, 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,
And he looked like a peddler 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 of 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 bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
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!