"'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house . . . " That famous line is the beginning of one of the most beloved holiday stories of all time. For over 180 years, children have gone to bed with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads, as they wait for Saint Nick to visit on Christmas Eve.
Clement Clarke Moore
There was initially some question about the origina of the poem, but the widely accepted author is Clement C. Moore (1779-1863). He was a graduate of Columbia University, where he later became a professor of Oriental and Greek literature. While there is no clear account of how he first penned Twas the Night Before Christmas - originally titled A Visit From Saint Nicholas but more widely known by its famous first line - the accepted theory is that he composed it for the holiday delight of his six children in 1822. They enjoyed the playful rhyme so much that the next year it was published in a New York newspaper. For years it was assumed to have been anonymously written because Moore did not want to be associated with such a simple work. Instead, he preferred to be credited with more scholarly writings, not knowing that his simple efforts at holiday verse would be remembered and treasured for centuries.
Classic Poem, Contemporary Symbolism
The catchy wording, vivid imagery, and memorable lines of Twas the Night Before Christmas have given rise to contemporary symbolism influencing society's perceptions of St. Nicholas, more commonly known as Santa Claus. Indeed, many details Moore included in the poem were not popular at the time, but as the poem became more and more widely distributed, their presence became ingrained in the holiday celebration. Items that Moore introduced include:
- Stockings hanging by the chimney or fireplace, waiting for gifts.
- Santa Claus visiting homes on Christmas Eve.
- Eight reindeer alighting on the roof - Moore even introduced their names.
- The image of Santa Claus as a chubby, jolly man clothed in red and white.
Publishing History of Twas the Night Before Christmas
Since its first appearance in 1823, this famous poem has been reprinted countless times in newspapers and books around the world. There is no accurate measure of how many times it has been printed or into how many languages it has been translated, but the 431 words divided into a mere 56 lines is arguably one of the most widely distributed holiday tales in existence. Every bookstore offers a wide range of interpretations, from cartoon illustrations to intricately and lovingly crafted masterpieces. While some versions have slightly modernized Moore's now outdated language, very few changes have been made. Books have been created by illustration artists such as Jan Brett, Christian Birmingham, and Mary Engelbreit, each one giving new meaning to the classic words.
Twas the Night Before Christmas is so outrageously popular that it has spawned innumerable parodies adapted for every lifestyle imaginable. Politically correct, college final exam, Star Trek, dieting, teaching, alternative holidays, regional dialects, and even adult content versions have been written. While they may not contribute as much to the wholesome holiday spirit as the original work has, their very existence demonstrates its overwhelming popularity.
Traditions with Twas the Night Before Christmas
Reading the poem has become a favorite family tradition in households across the country. Whether the family curls up by the fire with a treasured copy of the book, or gathers to enjoy an audio - even musical - version, the famous words of Clement C. Moore brighten the holidays for thousands of people every year.