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Clement Moore — The Night Before Christmas

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Langues :

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

"The Night Before Christmas"

’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 a 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 on 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 stocking; 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 Poem That Saved Christmas (well, almost): Of all the classic Christmas readings, this poem probably has the most colorful history. We know when it was first published, but there is some controversy about who actually wrote it in the first place. That said, the poem reshaped our nation’s view of St.Nicholas, and even helped the celebration of Christmas, at a time when the holiday had been drifting into neglect and even disrepute.
By the time that the Troy Sentinel first published this poem anonymously in 1823, Christmas celebrations were in some decline. In some circles, year-end parties had become so raucous that Christmas was no longer really a "family" holiday. In other, more religous circles, some wanted to wipe out, not only the raucous year-end celebrations, but also Christmas itself, which was "guilty by association." Even poor St. Nicholas was not the cheerful, red-robed, chubby soul that we imagine today - rather he often dressed in brown or green, was relatively slender, and was as likely to dole out punishment as gifts.

The poem’s clever verse and fresh view of "St. Nick" were well-received. "A Visit from St. Nicholas" was republished anonymously several more times before 1937, when it was first published under the name of Clement Clarke Moore, a well-known clergyman.

In the meantime, another prominent family, the Livingstons had always understood that their father and grandfather, Major Henry Livingstone had written the poem. After learning that Moore had claimed credit for the poem, several generations of Livingston’s heirs tried to "set the record straight." In recent years, they have drawn at least one well-known expert to their side. Still, most current publications follow the tradition of giving Clement C. Moore credit for the work.

On the other hand, there is no controversy about the success of the poem. Many believe that the poem eventually changed the way Americans thought about St. Nicholas, and even about Christmas. From the first publication, the poem’s refreshing approach, cheerful imagery, and memorable lines caught the imagination of young and old. Within a generation, the American public’s image of "St.Nick" had begun to evolve toward something like the plump, reindeer-driving, red-gowned, universally cheerful icon we know as Santa Claus. And Christmas had begun to be something more like the family-oriented holiday we think of today.

The poem is still fresh; except for references to shutters and other things we don’t use so much anymore, "A Visit from St. Nicholas" could have been written in our lifetimes, instead of nearly two centuries ago. In fact, Dr. Suess used the same rythm in much of his poetry, including "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

Even the authorship controversy has generated some very positive "side effects." During their many hours of research, the Livingstone heirs have studied just about every version of the poem that was published between 1823 and 1917, adding to a wealth of knowledge on related subjects. And they’ve published many pages of beautiful illustrations on their family web site.
- source Family Christmas


Clement Clarke Moore (July 15, 1779–July 10, 1863) is the credited author of A Visit from St. Nicholas (more commonly known today as Twas the Night Before Christmas).
Clement Clarke Moore was more famous in his own day as a professor of Oriental and Greek literature at Columbia College (now Columbia University). At General Theological Seminary he compiled a two volume Hebrew dictionary.

He was the only son of Benjamin Moore, a president of Columbia College and bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, and his wife Charity Clarke.[1] Clement Clarke Moore was a graduate of Columbia College (1798), where he earned both his B.A. and his M.A.. He was made professor of Biblical learning in the General Theological Seminary in New York (1821), a post that he held until 1850. The ground on which the seminary now stands was his gift.[2]
From 1840 to 1850, he was a board member of The New York Institution for the Blind at 34th Street and 9th Avenue (now The New York Institute for Special Education). He compiled a Hebrew and English Lexicon (1809), and published a collection of poems (1844). Upon his death in 1863 at his summer residence in Newport, Rhode Island, his funeral was held in Trinity Church, Newport, where he had owned a pew. Then his body was interred in the cemetery at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Hudson St., in New York City. On November 29, 1899, his body was reinterred in Trinity Churchyard Cemetery in New York.

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