Twas the Night Before Christmas: History and Tradition

Attributed to Clement C. Moore (although there is some controversy surrounding authorship), the poem originally entitled A Visit From St. Nicholas was first published anonymously in 1823.

Clement C. Moore

The poem, which has been called “arguably the best-known verses ever written by an American”,[1] 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, as well as the tradition that he brings toys to children. Prior to the poem, American ideas about St. Nicholas and other Christmastide visitors varied considerably. The poem has influenced ideas about St. Nicholas and Santa Claus beyond the United States to the rest of the English-speaking world and beyond. (Wikipedia)

A Visit From St. Nicholas, The New York Book of Poetry 1937

This enduring story is part of my Christmas tradition, as my father always read it to my sister, brother and I every Christmas Eve as we sat by the illuminated tree, in our pajamas, preparing for those ‘visions of sugar plums’ (whatever they were) to ‘dance in our heads’. No wonder it has inspired illustrators since its first (not illustrated, I believe) publication. I expect to listen to my son read it to my granddaughters tonight.

Scans of nearly 100 versions of the poem/book up to 1949 appear at Santa and Amazon lists an absolute plethora of versions in all media currently available.

A screen shot of some of 483 results yielded in a Google search for 'book cover:"twas the night before christmas" '

My students love Jan Brett's exquisitely intricate illustrations.

Published this past October this version illustrated by Charles Santore looks very promising. Although I might be drawn to some of the antique versions, my students love explosions of colour.

The poem can be found across media and genre: from Pokemon to classical, hiphop and feature movies. I suppose I’m showing my age when I admit that I love the sonorous 1965 narration by Lorne Greene.

If you are really curious about the history of this poem you might want to check out Nancy H. Marshall’s The Night Before Christmas: A Descriptive Bibliography of Clement Clarke Moore’s Immortal Poem (Oak Knoll Press 2002).

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Authors & Illustrators, History of Books & Libraries, Poetry

One response to “Twas the Night Before Christmas: History and Tradition

  1. Were I still in the classroom you would be a ready resource and inspiration. ~ Lynda

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