Moore: Night Before Christmas

Clement Clarke Moore: The man who invented Santa Claus

The 19th-century author who bequeathed us the image of a fat, jolly, white-bearded St. Nicholas (“His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!”) was himself a dour, straitlaced academician. As a professor of classics at the General Theological Seminary in New York City, Clement C. Moore’s most notable work prior to “A Visit from St. Nicholas” was a two-volume tome entitled “A Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language.”Fortunately for us, the man had children. Legend has it that Moore composed “A Visit from St. Nicholas” for his family on Christmas Eve of 1822, during a sleigh-ride home from Greenwich Village. It is reasonable to suppose that Moore’s most profound inspiration came not from his readings but from a keen appreciation of his audience. He wasn’t writing for publication, but to delight his own six children.

To that end, he transformed the legendary figure of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, into Santa Claus, a fairy tale character for children. It was perhaps Moore’s greatest contribution to the tradition, and at least partially explains Santa Claus’ overwhelming popularity in American culture ever since.

Moore, stodgy creature of academe that he was, refused to have the poem published despite its enthusiastic reception by everyone who read it. His argument that it was beneath his dignity evidently fell on deaf ears, because the following Christmas “A Visit from St. Nicholas” found its way after all into the mass media when a family member submitted it to an out-of-town newspaper. The poem was an “overnight sensation,” as we would say today, but Moore would not acknowledge authorship of it until fifteen years later, when he reluctantly included it in a volume of collected works. He referred to the poem “a mere trifle.”

The irony of this is that for all his protestations, Professor Clement Clarke Moore is now remembered for nothing else at all. *

* The above was lifted, almost word for word, from an article by David Emery in his on-line column, Urban Legends and Folklore in the on-line publication The entire article is: here.



The Night Before Christmas

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 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, Donder 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.”