I can still remember the simple joy of reading ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ to my six-month old son as he lay in his cot on Christmas Eve. His bedroom, decorated with ‘Winnie the Pooh’ and Beatrix Potter figures, was dimly lit and cosy. His Dad was downstairs wrapping presents and the smell of freshly baked mince pies drifted up the stairs. Alex was getting sleepy and had no idea what this time of year meant. But I did. We’d been given the greatest gift on earth; a baby to love and cherish. It was 1997 and I’d bought Grandreams Mini Pop-up Storybooks for his very first Christmas. There were six delightful little festive tales beautifully illustrated with cut-out pop-ups. One of them was the famous poem‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’.
It was originally published anonymously in 1823 as ‘A Visit from St Nicholas’ and a number of people claimed authorship but in 1837 it was attributed to American poet Clement Clarke Moore, though its author has never been definitively identified. According to legend, the poem was composed by Moore on a snowy winter’s day during a shopping trip on a sleigh. His inspiration for the character of Saint Nicholas was a local Dutch handyman as well as the historical Saint Nicholas. Here we meet Father Christmas (St Nicholas) with his cheery face and portly figure, bag of toys and reindeer-drawn sleigh. Reindeer Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen – but no Rudolph yet.
It is now a Christmas classic and has been reprinted hundreds of times, set to music and recorded by many. It has become a tradition around the globe to read this poem on Christmas Eve, sending children to sleep with visions of toy-filled stockings and the exciting day to come.
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.”
My son is now a big teenager but at some point on Christmas Eve, we’ll find 5 minutes to read this poem from the same book, as we have done every year since 1997. Maybe one day he’ll have his own child to carry on this lovely tradition shared with children all over the world …