A Christmas Classic: Clement Clarke Moore

One of the most famous, enduring pieces of holiday literature is the story-poem, “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore. Originally titled “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” the poem was first published anonymously in 1823 in the Troy Sentinel. In 1844, Moore included it in Poems, a collection of his works.


I could almost swear on a stack of money that I once saw a dramatic rendering— well, okay, a cartoon– of the story’s creation that depicted the author writing the poem for his very ill daughter, who was shivering in her sickbed. He wanted to write her a special poem by Christmas morning, worried she might die in the night. I think her name was Sara or Clara. However, I can find no evidence of this TV special. Maybe I dreamed it. It’s true that Clement wrote the poem to please his children, but there’s no evidence that any of them were ill at the time, nor were any of his daughters named Sara or Clara. He first read it to them on Christmas Eve 1822. It was published the following year, its popularity spreading as fast as a thing could spread, back in the days before the internet existed. Years later, skeptical scholars debated whether Moore wrote it at all, citing linguistic aberrations and handwriting analysis, but those rumors have pretty much been put to rest.

A visit

Because of the fancy phrasing and certain wording (“a right jolly old elf”) in the poem, I always assumed Moore was British. Actually, he was born in in 1779 New York City. His father, Benjamin Moore, was a bishop who was present during George Washington’s inauguration! Young Clement was home-schooled before it was a “thing,” eventually attending Columbia College. While “Twas the Night Before Christmas” is his best-known work, Moore was also the author of scholarly tomes such as Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language, and a biography entitled George Castriot, Surnamed Scanderbeg, King of Albania. Clement Clarke Moore passed away in 1863.

(As long as we’re on the topic of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” one of my favorite holiday cartoons of all time was a 1974 musical animated rendering of Moore’s classic tale, complete with an awesome musical score. Set in the late 1800s in a fictional town called Junctionville, the cute, half-hour movie tells the story of a poor clock-maker named Joshua Trundle and his family, and a family of mice that share his home. When all the letters Junctionville’s children  wrote to Santa come back marked “Return to Sender,” Trundle and Father Mouse must find out why he’s mad, and somehow win his forgiveness! The special features the celebrity voices of George Gobel, Tammy Grimes, and Joel Grey. You can check it out on YouTube. You won’t be sorry!)

0000mouse xmas


Meanwhile, here is Clement Clarke Moore’s holiday classic, in its entirety, courtesy of the Poetry Foundation. Enjoy!

A Visit from St. Nicholas

By Clement Clarke Moore

‘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 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,
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;
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,
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;
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!”
and to all a good night

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