A Visit from St. Nicholas

A Visit from St. Nicholas
"The Night Before Christmas" and "Twas the Night Before Christmas" redirect here. For other uses, see The Night Before Christmas (disambiguation) and Twas the Night Before Christmas (disambiguation)
A Visit from St. Nicholas

'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,

—Clement Clark Moore

"A Visit from St. Nicholas", also known as "The Night Before Christmas" and "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" from its first line, is a poem first published anonymously in 1823 and generally attributed to Clement Clarke Moore, although the claim has also been made that it was written by Henry Livingston, Jr.

The poem, which has been called "arguably the best-known verses ever written by an American",[1] is largely responsible for the conception of Santa Claus from the mid-nineteenth century to today, including his physical appearance, the night of his visit, his mode of transportation, the number and names of his reindeer, as well as the tradition that he brings toys to children. Prior to the poem, American ideas about St. Nicholas and other Christmastide visitors varied considerably. The poem has influenced ideas about St. Nicholas and Santa Claus beyond the United States to the rest of the English-speaking world and beyond.



Clement Clarke Moore, who is generally considered to be the author of A Visit from St. Nicholas

On Christmas Eve night, while his wife and children sleep, a man awakens to noises outside his house. Looking out the window, he sees St. Nicholas in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer. After flying on to the roof, the saint enters the house through the chimney, carrying a sack of toys with him. The man watches Nicholas filling the children's stockings hanging by the fire, and laughs to himself. They share a conspiratorial moment before the saint bounds up the chimney again. As he flies away, Nicholas wishes everyone a happy Christmas.

Literary history

According to legend,[2] A Visit 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. While Moore originated many of the features that are still associated with Santa Claus today, he borrowed other aspects such as the names of the reindeer. The poem was first published anonymously in the Troy, New York, Sentinel on December 23, 1823, having been sent there by a friend of Clement Clarke Moore,[1] and was reprinted frequently thereafter with no name attached. Only later did Moore acknowledge his authorship, and the poem was included in an 1844 anthology of his works.[3] Moore had written it for his children, and being a scholar and professor, did not wish at first to be connected with the poem, but his children insisted that it be included in the anthology.

Moore's conception of St. Nicholas was borrowed from his friend Washington Irving's (see below), but Moore portrayed his "jolly old elf" as arriving on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. At the time Moore wrote the poem, Christmas Day was overtaking New Year's Day as the preferred genteel family holiday of the season, but some Protestants - who saw Christmas as the result of "Catholic ignorance and deception" - still had reservations. By having St. Nicholas arrive the night before, Moore "deftly shifted the focus away from Christmas Day with its still-problematic religious associations". As a result, "New Yorkers embraced Moore's child-centered version of Christmas as if they had been doing it all their lives".[1]

In An American Anthology, 1787–1900, editor Edmund Clarence Stedman reprinted the Moore version of the poem, including the German spelling of "Donder and Blitzen" he adopted, rather than the earlier Dutch version from 1823, "Dunder and Blixem". Both phrases translate as "Thunder and Lightning" in English, though the German word for thunder is "Donner", and the words in modern Dutch would be "Donder en Bliksem".

Modern printings frequently incorporate alterations that reflect changing linguistic and cultural sensibilities: For example, breast in "The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow" is frequently bowdlerized to crest, the archaic ere in "But I heard him exclaim ere he drove out of sight" is frequently replaced with as, and "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night" is frequently rendered with the modern North American locution "'Merry Christmas'" and with "goodnight" as a single word.

Original copies

Four hand-written copies of the poem are known to exist, and three are in museums. The fourth copy, written out and signed by Clement Clarke Moore as a gift to a friend in 1860, was sold by one private collector to another in December, 2006. According to Dallas-based Heritage Auction Galleries, which brokered the private sale, it was purchased for $280,000 U.S. by an unnamed "chief executive officer of a media company" who resides in Manhattan, New York City.[4]

Authorship controversy

Henry Livingston, Jr. is another candidate brought forward in one theory as possible author of the poem

Moore's connection with the poem has been questioned by Professor Donald Foster, an expert on textual content analysis, who used external and internal evidence to argue that Moore could not have been the author.[5] Major Henry Livingston, Jr., a New Yorker with Dutch and Scottish roots, is considered the chief candidate for authorship, if Moore did not write it. Livingston was distantly related to Moore's wife.[5]

Evidence in favor of Moore

Moore is credited by his friend Charles Hoffman as author in the December 25, 1837, Pennsylvania Inquirer and Daily Courier. Further, the Rev. David Butler, who allegedly showed the poem to Sentinel editor Orville L. Holley, was a relative of Moore's. A letter to Moore from the publisher states "I understand from Mr. Holley that he received it from Mrs. Sackett, the wife of Mr. Daniel Sackett who was then a merchant in this city"[citation needed]. Moore allowed the poem to be included in his anthology in 1844, at the request of his children. Moore preferred to be known for more scholarly works.[citation needed]

Evidence in favor of Livingston

Moore "tried at first to disavow" the poem.[6] He claimed that only two changes were introduced in the first printing, yet it differs from his own on 23 points.[citation needed] It is also said that Moore falsely claimed to have translated a book.[7] Document historian Seth Kaller has challenged this claim as a misinterpretation of a book dedication.[8] According to Kaller, Moore signed the translation as a gift to the New-York Historical Society, as one might dedicate a book they give to another person, but did not claim authorship.

The following points have been advanced in order to credit the poem to Major Henry Livingston, Jr:

Livingston also wrote poetry primarily using an anapaestic metrical scheme, and it is claimed that some of the phraseology of A Visit is consistent with other poems by Livingston, and that Livingston's poetry is more optimistic than Moore's poetry published in his own name. But Stephen Nissenbaum argues, in his Battle for Christmas, that the poem could have been a social satire of the Victorianization of Christmas.[8] Furthermore, Kaller claims that Foster cherry-picked only the poems that fit his thesis and that many of Moore's unpublished works have a tenor, phraseology and meter similar to A Visit.[8] Moore had even written a letter entitled "From Saint Nicholas" that may have predated 1823.[8]

Foster also asserts that Livingston's mother was Dutch, which accounts for the references to the Dutch Sinteklaes tradition and the use of the Dutch names "Dunder and Blixem". Against this claim, it is suggested by Kaller[8] that Moore, a friend of writer Washington Irving and member of the same literary society, may have acquired some of his knowledge of New York Dutch traditions from Irving. Irving had written A History of New York in 1809 under the name of "Dietrich Knickerbocker". It includes several references to legends of St. Nicholas, including the following that bears a close relationship to the poem:

And the sage Oloffe dreamed a dream, — and lo, the good St. Nicholas came riding over the tops of the trees, in that self-same wagon wherein he brings his yearly presents to children, and he descended hard by where the heroes of Communipaw had made their late repast. And he lit his pipe by the fire, and sat himself down and smoked; and as he smoked, the smoke from his pipe ascended into the air and spread like a cloud overhead. And Oloffe bethought him, and he hastened and climbed up to the top of one of the tallest trees, and saw that the smoke spread over a great extent of country; and as he considered it more attentively, he fancied that the great volume of smoke assumed a variety of marvellous forms, where in dim obscurity he saw shadowed out palaces and domes and lofty spires, all of which lasted but a moment, and then faded away, until the whole rolled off, and nothing but the green woods were left. And when St. Nicholas had smoked his pipe, he twisted it in his hatband, and laying his finger beside his nose, gave the astonished Van Kortlandt a very significant look; then, mounting his wagon, he returned over the tree-tops and disappeared.

Washington Irving, A History of New York[9]

Cover of a 1912 edition of the poem, illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith

In popular culture

The very well known poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas", has inspired many parodies,[10] adaptations and references in popular culture.


  • In the Garfield comic strips published during the week of December 19–24, 1983, the text of the poem was drawn above scenes of Garfield acting out the part of the narrator.
  • Currently (December 13–25, 2010), Over the Hedge is covering the poem in a story arc, in which Verne tries to read it to Hammy and R.J. but keeps getting interrupted by their silly comments.
  • Issue 40 of the DC comic book, Young Justice (2001), is a full-length parody of the poem. Unusually for a comic book, it features no panels or word balloon, only full-page illustrations accompanied by rhyming text. In the story, Santa sacrifices his life to save the world from a vengeful alien villain (though it's implied he'll be reborn next Christmas) and the teen heroes are stuck with the task of delivering all his gifts.


  • In the movie Die Hard, Theo alerts his friends to the SWAT team's arrival with the opening line of this poem.[11]
  • In National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) reads the story to his extended family, but changes the narrative when he looks out the window and sees Cousin Eddie and Eddie's kidnapped hostage (Clark's boss) approaching the house. Instead of describing the "miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer", Clark describes the strange event taking place in his front yard.
  • The 1905 short silent film, The Night Before Christmas, was the first production of the poem on film.
  • Tim Burton's 1993 stop motion film, The Nightmare Before Christmas, parodies the poem's first line.


  • The children's book, The Cajun Night Before Christmas, offers a Cajun version of the classic tale, written in Cajun dialect and changing the scene to a Louisiana swamp and the saint's vehicle to a skiff pulled by alligators.[12]
  • A "Canonical List of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas Variations" contains nearly one thousand versions of the classic poem.[13]
  • In 1986 Lance Corporal James M. Schmidt penned "Merry Christmas, My friend. A Marine's version of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas'".[14]
  • James Thurber’s parody, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas IN THE ERNEST HEMINGWAY MANNER,” which originally appeared in the December 24, 1927 issue of The New Yorker.

Music and spoken word

  • In 1953, Perry Como recorded a reading of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas". Its original release was on the Around the Christmas Tree LPM-3133.[15]
  • The nu metal band Korn released a limited edition promotional 12-inch single single in 1993, which featured two versions of their "A Visit from St. Nicholas" parody: "Christmas Song (Squeak by the FCC version)" and "Christmas Song (Blatant FCC Violation version)".[16]
  • The poem was set to music by Ken Darby and recorded by Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians in 1942 in an arrangement by Harry Simeone.
  • Dave Seville recorded the poem for the 1963 album Christmas with The Chipmunks, Vol. 2.
  • Actor Jack Palance narrates the poem on Laurie Z's 2001 recording, Heart of the Holidays.
  • Under the title of A Visit From St. Nick, the poem was set for Speaker & Orchestra by Robert Lichtenberger in 1987. It was commissioned for and premiered by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edward Polochick, and repeated by the BSO on a number of subsequent Christmas holiday concerts. The work has also been performed by the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, DC, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra conducted by the late Erich Kunzel, the Maryland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Elizabeth Schulze as well as other ensembles in the USA. Narrators have included then-mayor-of-Baltimore Kurt Schmoke, actor George Clooney and actress Pat Carroll.
  • The poem was set to music by Aaron Dai in 2006 as The Night Before Christmas. It has been performed by The Chelsea Symphony and noteworthy narrators such as Richard Kind, Ana Gasteyer, and David Hyde Pierce.
  • A Pokémon version of this poem is included on the soundtrack CD album of Pokémon-themed Christmas songs entitled, Pokémon Christmas Bash.
  • In a 1939 recording included in the Nimbus Records collection Prima Voce: The Spirit of Christmas Past, actor Basil Rathbone reads the poem.
  • The Bob Rivers comedy album Twisted Christmas features the track "A Visit from St. Nicholson", a narration of a Christmas visit from Jack Nicholson.
  • In the Dave Van Ronk song "Yas Yas Yas", the poem is parodied in the verse "'Twas the night before Christmas, all was quiet in the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse, when from the lawn there came a big crash. It was Father Christmas landing on his yas yas yas."
  • A new rock/pop musical adaptation was released in 2011 by the artist “JJ’s Tunes & Tales” on CD Baby and iTunes. The single features the singing of Juliet Lyons, and a rock band that includes both electric guitars and mandolins. This musical adaptation has singing and music throughout, with no spoken or rap lyric sections.

Radio and television

  • Episode 55 of Animaniacs featured a skit titled "The Day Before Christmas", in which Ralph the Guard is given the task of delivering Yakko, Wakko, and Dot's Christmas presents. The short is presented as a bedtime story told by Slappy Squirrel to her nephew Skippy, and is narrated in the poetic form as the original story. This cartoon was adapted into comic book form in a special comic book published by DC Comics in October 1994.
  • Some holiday airings of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy had Charlie McCarthy trying to recite the poem from memory, resulting in such lines as "The stockings were hung by the chimney with care/In hopes that the laundryman soon would be there" (a few times the line went "In hopes that the room could stand some fresh air"), "He flies through the air with the greatest of ease/The jolly old elf in the red BVD's", and "Now, Dasher, Now, Dancer, and what do you know/Dasher and Dancer paid $220 to show!"
  • The song with the poem as its basis as stated above, arranged by Harry Simeone and music by Ken Darby, was performed at holiday airings of Fibber McGee and Molly, usually introduced by Teeny, the neighbor girl, as their "Christmas Carol".
  • At the beginning of Friends (TV series) episode 9, "The One with Christmas in Tulsa", Phoebe sings the last four lines of The Night Before Christmas and Joey claims she wrote it.
  • In A Muppet Family Christmas, the Sesame Street Muppets perform a play based on the poem, with Ernie narrating as the father (the main character) and Bert as Mamma (he lost a coin toss). The monsters appear as the reindeer, with the Two-Headed Monster as Santa (and Grover as the mouse who is not stirring, literally). The narration omits the line "The children were nestled, all snug in their bed(s)/While visions of sugar plums danced in their heads", because of the homosexuality rumor.[citation needed]
  • A hip-hop animated version of the poem was made as an hour long animated special, The Night B4 Christmas.
  • Bell Telephone Company sponsored a short film circa 1950 entitled The Spirit of Christmas, featuring the Les and Mabel Beaton marionettes. Within a few years, it became a holiday perennial in many TV markets, especially in the Philadelphia area.
  • In the 1961, Bell Telephone Hour television program A Trip to Christmas, a version of the poem is performed offscreen by hostess Jane Wyatt and a chorus, and enacted onscreen by the Bil Baird Marionettes.
  • In the animated TV special by Rankin/Bass (1974), titled "Twas the Night Before Christmas", the characters and portions of the plot are loosely based on the poem.
  • In the Barney and the Backyard Gang special, "Waiting for Santa", Barney reads the story to Michael and Amy, whom he has befriended, while Santa himself is in the living room of the house doing his usual work. He falls asleep just as he comes to "With a little old driver, so lively and quick/I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick". Santa whispers the last quotation to the camera after that.


  • "The Night Before Doom", which appears in the Official DOOM F.A.Q., is a poem centered on the computer game Doom.[17]
  • For Christmas 1985, the Internet Engineering Task Force circulated an RFC document that was actually a poem about the early days of the Internet, titled "Twas the Night Before Start-up".[18]


  1. ^ a b c Burrows, Edwin G. & Wallace, Mike. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. p. 462-463 ISBN 0-19-511634-8
  2. ^ Walsh, Joseph J. (2001). Were They Wise Men Or Kings?: The Book of Christmas Questions. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 11. ISBN 0-664-22312-5. 
  3. ^ Siefker, Phyllis (1997). Santa Claus,. McFarland & Company. pp. 4. ISBN 0-7864-0246-6. 
  4. ^ "Copy of Poem Sold; 'Twas Worth $280K". Washington Post (Associated Press). December 19, 2006. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/19/AR2006121901603.html. Retrieved 2008-04-19. 
  5. ^ a b "Major Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748–1828) Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas", Representative Poetry Online
  6. ^ Christoph, Peter. "Clement Moore Revisited". Major Henry Livingston, Jr., the author of "Night Before Christmas". Intermedia Enterprises. http://www.iment.com/maida/familytree/henry/sources/christoph1982.htm. Retrieved 2008-04-19. 
  7. ^ Kirkpatrick, David D. (October 26, 2000). "Literary Sleuth Casts Doubt on the Authorship of an Iconic Christmas Poem". New York Times. Archived from the original on 2008-04-08. http://web.archive.org/web/20080408063922/http://www.nytimes.com/2000/10/26/arts/26NIGH.html. Retrieved 2008-04-19. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Mann, Ted (December 1, 2006). "Ho, Ho, Hoax". Scarsdale Magazine (LoHud.com). http://www.lohud.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061201/CUSTOM05/612010340/1204. Retrieved 2009-12-24. 
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ Emery, David. "With Apologies to Clement C. Moore...". Urban Legends. About.com. http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/historical/a/twas_the_night.htm. Retrieved 2008-04-19. 
  11. ^ "Memorable Quotes from Die Hard". Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095016/quotes. Retrieved 2008-04-19. 
  12. ^ Trosclair (September 1992) [1973]. Cajun Night Before Christmas. Night Before Christmas Series (20th Anniversary Edition ed.). Pelican Publishing Company. ISBN 0-88289-940-6. 
  13. ^ Monroe, Mathew. "Canonical List of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas Variations". http://www.alchemistmatt.com/twas/twasallmain.html. Retrieved 2008-12-23. 
  14. ^ http://www.gospelweb.net/Christmas/marinechristmaspoem.htm
  15. ^ http://kokomo.ca/xmas/twas_the_night_before_christmas.htm
  16. ^ "'Christmas Song U.S. 12" Vinyl (EAS 6643)'". Korn Is Peachy. GeoCities.com. Archived from the original on 2009-10-23. http://www.webcitation.org/5kkmpzePd. Retrieved 2008-04-19. 
  17. ^ Luekart, Hank (1994). "The Night Before Doom". Doomworld. http://www.doomworld.com/articles/nightbeforedoom.shtml. Retrieved 2008-04-19. 
  18. ^ Cerf, Vint (December 1985). "RFC 968: Twas the Night Before Start-up". Request for Comments. Internet Engineering Task Force. http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc968.txt. Retrieved 2008-04-19. 
Further reading
  • Foster, Donald (2000). Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous. New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 0-8050-6357-9. 
  • Gardner, Martin (1991). The Annotated Night Before Christmas: A Collection Of Sequels, Parodies, And Imitations Of Clement Moore's Immortal Ballad About Santa Claus; Edited, with an introduction and notes, by Martin Gardner. Summit Books. ISBN 0-671-70839-2. 
  • Nissenbaum, Stephen (1997). The Battle for Christmas: A Social and Cultural History of Christmas that Shows How It Was Transformed from an Unruly Carnival Season into the Quintessential American Family Holiday. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-679-41223-9. 

External links

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