‘‘Twas the Night before Christmas”, also known as ‘A Visit from St Nicholas’ was written in 1822 by Clement Clarke Moore and was originally written for his family. It was first published in the Troy (New York) Sentinel on 23rd December 1823. From that date onwards it has been published in many magazines, newspapers, books, and anthologies, as well as being used as the basis for films, radio and television programmes.
The poem was first printed as a book in 1837. The poem paints a perfect, romantic image of the ideal family Christmas, from the stereotypical picture of the family on Christmas Eve to the make-believe image of St. Nicholas landing his sleigh on the roof of the house and slipping down the chimney, and the reading of this poem on Christmas Eve is a tradition in families all over the world.
‘Twas the Night before Christmas’ imagines childhood to be a perfect time filled with happiness, joy, and excitement, which for some children is not what reality is like. It gives the image of the children in the poem as being ‘nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads’, which teaches the child reader or listener about what good children should do on Christmas Eve.
However it also goes on to let the child know what is supposedly happening whilst all of the family are fast asleep so that they can feel excited at the prospect of waking up to gifts on Christmas morning.
This poem historically appears to be the first mention of St. Nicholas actually having a sleigh and reindeer, which seems to be almost unbelievable in today’s society with all of the Christmas merchandise sold with a picture of a sleigh or reindeer on them. Even the description of St. Nicholas as a plump man with ‘cheeks like roses’, a smile, a wobbly belly, and a bag full of toys on his back has been carried forward through history to give the present day conception of Santa Claus / Father Christmas / St. Nicholas which adorns millions of Christmas cards every year.
The reindeer’s names are also still used in today’s society in Christmas songs. The reindeer that are known as Donder and Blitzen (which are German words) can be translated into the English words Thunder and Lightning, however in English versions of the poem they are still called either Donder and Blitzen, or Donna and Blitzen to keep the rhyme scheme in place with Blitzen rhyming with Vixen.
In several American versions of the poem the last line has been changed to ‘Merry Christmas to all…’ instead of ‘Happy Christmas to all…’, as Merry Christmas is more commonly used as a Christmas greeting in the U. S. A.
The theme of Christmas and St. Nicholas with his reindeer delivering presents brings back memories of childhood for adults and brings excitement for children. It is a poem which was written a long time ago, but it has stood the test of time. It was my favourite poem as a child and it is still my favourite poem today as it may be yours as well.
So, on this Christmas eve, as the stockings hang on the fireplace, and children wait for Santa’s arrival, or your doing some last minute Christmas shopping, take a moment with your family and read aloud this classic poem for all to enjoy.
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 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 miniature sleigh, and eight tinny 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, on Donner 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 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 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!”