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'Twas The Night Before Christmas

11 Dec 2019

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not one of us knew how this story came about! Loved by familie up and down the UK you might be surprised to know that the story originated in America and fundamentally changed how we thought Santa Claus goes about his business!

The poem originally titled “A Visit from St. Nicholas” was first published anonymously in 1823. The poem has been called arguably the best-known verses ever written by an American and is largely responsible for some of the conceptions of Santa Claus from the mid-nineteenth century to today. It has had a massive impact on the history of Christmas gift-giving. Before the poem gained wide popularity, American ideas had varied considerably about Saint Nicholas and other Christmastide visitors.

The authorship of “A Visit” is credited to Clement Clarke Moore who is said to have composed it on a snowy winter’s day during a trip on a sleigh. His inspiration for the character of Saint Nicholas was a local Dutch handyman as well as the historical Saint Nicholas. Moore originated many of the features that are still associated with Santa Claus today while borrowing other aspects, such as the use of reindeer.The poem was first published anonymously in the Troy, New York Sentinel on 23 December 1823, having been sent there by a friend of Moore and was reprinted frequently thereafter with no name attached. It was first attributed in print to Moore in 1837.

Moore had a reputation as an erudite professor and had not wished at first to be connected with the unscholarly verse. He eventually included it in his own published works at the insistence of his children, for whom he had originally written the piece.

Moore’s conception of Saint Nicholas was borrowed from his friend Washington Irving, but Moore portrayed his “jolly old elf” as arriving on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. At the time that Moore wrote the poem, Christmas Day was overtaking New Year’s Day as the preferred genteel family holiday of the season, but some Protestants viewed Christmas as the result of “Catholic ignorance and deception” and still had reservations. By having Saint Nicholas arrive the night before, Moore deftly shifted the focus away from Christmas Day with its still “problematic” religious associations. As a result, “New Yorkers embraced Moore’s child-centered version of Christmas as if they had been doing it all their lives.”

Modern printings frequently incorporate alterations that reflect changing linguistic and cultural sensibilities. For example, breast in “The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow” is frequently bowdlerized to crest; the archaic ere in “But I heard him exclaim ere he drove out of sight” is frequently replaced with as. This change implies that Santa Claus made his exclamation at the moment he disappeared from view, while the exclamation came before his disappearance in the original. “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night” is frequently rendered with the traditional English locution “Merry Christmas”.

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