‘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;
Composed by Clement C. Moore
When Martin Crosbie invited me to participate in the 12 blogs of Christmas I immediately said yes. I’ve always treasured Christmas and the opportunity to share my love of Clement Moore’s ‘A Visit from St. Nick’ poem appealed to me. After several hours of research, the following is what I gleaned.
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. He supposedly drew inspiration for the elfin, pot-bellied St. Nick in his poem from the roly-poly Dutchman who drove his sleigh that day. But from what we know of Clement Moore, it’s much more likely to suppose that he drew his imagery from literary sources, most notably Washington Irving’s Knickerbocker History (1809) and a Christmas poem published in 1821 called “The Children’s Friend.”
Truth be told, the nineteenth-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 Saint Nicholas” was a two-volume tome entitled A Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language.
Fortunately for us, the man had children.
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’ popularity in Western cultures 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. Evidently his argument that it was beneath his dignity fell on deaf ears, because the following Christmas “A Visit from St. Nicholas” found its way into the mass media after all 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 was not to acknowledge authorship of it until fifteen years later, when he reluctantly included it in a volume of collected works. He called the poem “a mere trifle.” The irony of this, as Duncan Emrich points out, is that for all his protestations, Professor Clement Clarke Moore is now remembered for little else at all.
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