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'Twas the Night Before Christmas – Author Unknown

Every English-speaking enjoyer of Christmas has heard the poem, 'Twas the night before Christmas A.K.A. A visit from St. Nicholas. The poem is as much a part of the holiday season as it is foundational to the modern Christmas myth. Santa's 8 reindeer didn't exist before the publication of 'Twas the night before Christmas. The only problem? No-one knows who wrote it.

The Night Before Christmas – Full Poem

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro' 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 danc'd in their heads,

And Mama in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled our brains 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 minature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,

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 call'd them by name:

"Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer, and Vixen,

"On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blixem;

"To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

"Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As dry leaves 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 head, and was turning around,

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:

He was dress'd all in fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnish'd with ashes and soot;

A bundle of toys was flung on his back,

And he look'd 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 laugh'd, like a bowl full of jelly:

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laugh'd 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 fill'd all the stockings; then turn'd with a jerk,

And laying his finger aside of his nose

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

He sprung 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.

Anonymous Author – Troy Sentinel

The poem, 'Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas', was published by the Troy Sentinel on 23 December 1823, in Troy, New York, USA. Authorship of the poem has been in question ever since, largely because the author wished to remain anonymous at first.

Historians are locked in a debate over the identity of the author. The only clues they have are in the text itself, as well as the return address on the original submission. It was sent from the Moore household.

Twenty years after the poem's publication, Clement Clarke Moore claimed that he was the one who had written the piece. He stated that he wrote it for his grandchildren the year before it was sent to the Troy Sentinel.

So Moore wrote it. The submission was sent from his home, and he claimed authorship. Not necessarily, say historians. Some argue that Henry Livingston Jr. was the true author.

Livingston's descendants are adamant that he was the true author. They brought in literary detectives and even held a mock trial to declare their ancestor the author.

The editor of the Troy Sentinel, Orville Holley, wrote this about the poem when it was first published:

We know not to whom we are indebted for the following description of that unwearied patron of music—that homely and delightful personage of parental kindness, Santa Claus, his costumes, and his equipage, as he goes about visiting the firesides of this happy land, laden with Christmas bounties; but from whomsoever it may have come, we give thanks for it. There is, to our apprehension, a spirit of cordial goodness in it, a playfulness of fancy and a benevolent alacrity to enter into the feelings and promote the simple pleasures of children which are altogether charming.
We hope our little patrons, both lads and lassies, will accept it as a proof of our unfeigned good will towards them—as a token of our warmest wish that they may have many a Merry Christmas; that they may long retain their beautiful relish for those unbought home­bred joys which derive their flavor from filial piety and fraternal love, and which they may be assured are the least alloyed that time can furnish them; and that they may never part with that simplicity of character which is their own fairest ornament and for the sake of which they have been pronounced by Authority which none can gainsay, types of such of us as shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.

Clement Clarke Moore – The 1844 Poetry Collection

'Twas the Night Before Christmas was an instant hit when it was first released in 1823. Throughout the rest of the decade it was reprinted in various newspapers, growing to near legendary status. Soon it was a staple of the Christmas season, much like Mariah Carey's 'All I Want for Christmas' is today.

Bartlett, and Welford, a publishing house based in New York, released a collection of Clement Moore's poetry in 1844. The collection included a preface by Moore wherein he laid claim to the poem. It was printed in that collection, and thereby added officially to Moore's body of work.

The only problem was that those who knew Moore found the piece to be out of character. He was reportedly a sour, humorless old curmudgeon. Poetry written by Moore was stern, serious, and lacked the exuberance of A Visit from St. Nicholas.

Moore's descendants remain adamant that he was the author, but they cannot provide the original manuscript as proof.

Henry Livingston Jr. – Proof Up in Smoke

 Image of Henry Livingston, Jr.

According to Livingston's relatives, the poem had been in the family since at least 1807. They point to the use of Dutch names for some reindeer, Donner and Blitzen, as signs that it was written by Livingston, who was of Dutch heritage.

Some of his closest friends and neighbors also claim that they saw an annotated written manuscript for 'Twas the Night Before Christmas in the Livingston house. That is, before it burned down.

Scholarly Analyses

So who can you trust? The Moore vs. Livingston debate has been raging for nearly 200 years at this point. Both families desperately want to claim the poem as part of their family history. I smell a heartwarming Christmas film about their reconciliation brewing.

Obviously scholars had to weigh in on the argument. What else could they do with all that university funding? The poem was analyzed and compared to both authors' bodies of work. These nerds turned detectives, which all detectives are, looked for language use, vocabulary, and turns of phrase. Emeritus Professor, MacDonald P. Jackson led the effort.

Their conclusion was that Clement Clarke Moore could not have written 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. None of what he wrote even remotely matched the text in question.

Professor Jackson concluded that the style of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas matched Livingston's other work more closely than Moore's.


Whoever wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas/'Twas the Night Before Christmas contributed a lot to modern Western culture. With Christmas moving away from a purely religious holiday, to a secular celebration of familial bonds, the poem is held up as a shining example of modern myth making.



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