’TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863) written in 1823.
Moore was an American Professor of Oriental and Greek Literature, as well as Divinity and Biblical Learning, at the General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in New York City. Located on land donated by the “Bard of Chelsea” himself, the seminary still stands today on Ninth Avenue between 20th and 21st Streets.
The poem, “arguably the best-known verses ever written by an American”, was first published anonymously in the Troy, New York, Sentinel on December 23, 1823, having been sent there by a friend of Moore. The poem was first attributed in print to Moore in 1837. Moore himself acknowledged authorship when he included it in the 1844 anthology of his works Poems, at the insistence of his children, for whom he had originally written the piece. Moore had not wished at first to be connected with the unscholarly verse, given his public reputation as an erudite professor. The poem was penned earlier at Constable Hall while visiting his cousin, Mary McVicker, in what is now known as Constableville, NY.
A Visit from St. Nicholas is largely responsible for the conception of Santa Claus from the mid-nineteenth century to today, including his physical appearance, the night of his visit, his mode of transportation, the number and names of his reindeer, and the tradition that he brings toys to children.
’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 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 tinny 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, 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 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 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!”
THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the flat
Not a creature was stirring – not even a rat.
The light had gone off on the silent TV
(We’d seen Back to the Future, Jaws III and ET)
I’d had three Peperami, a litre of Fanta
And now I was ready and waiting for Santa.
I knew he was coming – I knew I was right
For Mummy and Daddy had kissed me goodnight
And Mum had said, ‘That noise – I heard it again, dear.’
To which Dad replied – ‘No, it’s only the rain, dear.’
I tried to ignore my digestion’s loud rattle
(For three Peperami put up quite a battle).
And that’s when I heard them – the sleighbells a-jingling,
The shouted instructions that set my scalp tingling –
‘Come Rudolf, come Lynford, come Gunnell, keep prancing –
Come Carling, come Gower, come Gascoigne, come dancing,
Come Heseltine, Fergie and Beatrice, don’t slack –
Portillo and Lilley, keep up at the back!’
I heard their hooves clatter and scrabble for grip
(For our roof is quite steep and it’s easy to slip).
I heard Santa alight and I heard my heart beating
For then I remembered we have central heating!
The flue-pipe is tiny – he hasn’t a hope
But surely he’s magic – of course – he can cope.
He’ll squeeze down the chimney – he has – that’s the noise
Of a very small man with a sack of small toys.
He’s got to the boiler – I heard a small cough –
Poor Santa – I hope that the gas is turned off.
Go back, Santa Claus – it’s not too late to jump.
Oh, no! I can hear him – he’s caught in the pump.
He’s off on the circuit, through all of the rads –
The hall, then Sam’s bedroom and then Mum and Dad’s.
He’s going through mine now – I heard a small clank!
It’s the towel rail next, then the hot water tank.
Then back to the boiler – now, gasping for breath –
He can’t have survived. What a horrible death.
Hush, listen! – Exactly, there isn’t a sound –
Poor Father Christmas has definitely drowned.
How shocking! No stockings, no gifts any more
No presents for me, or for Kevin next door.
The kids of the world will be simply appalled
And blame us, for having the heating installed.
My brain in a fury, I had a small weep
And, pale and confused, must have fallen asleep.
I woke to the sound of the pipe’s early knocking
Remembered the horrors, then noticed my stocking.
The varicose sides and the end-of-toe tumour
Betoken the Rolos, the Twix, the satsuma!
I cried ‘Santa lives – it was only a dream!’
(The heating cheered too with a small hiss of steam!)
What a nightmare – but my fault. I must have been barmy,
Last thing at night to eat three Peperami.