And all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…
Did you know there is some question as to who actually wrote this popular holiday piece?
Apparently, when it first appeared in the newspaper on December 23, 1823, there was no name attached to it. It wasn’t until 13 years later that Clement Clarke Moore, a professor and poet, stepped forward to claim authorship and said that his housekeeper had, without his knowledge, sent the piece he wrote for his kids to the newspaper.
In 1844, the poem was officially included in an anthology of Moore’s work.
The family of Henry Livingston, Jr., claimed their father had been reciting “A Visit From St. Nicholas” to them for 15 years before it was published.
Livingston’s Dutch background is a key component in this mystery. His mother was Dutch, and many references in the poem are as well adding to the evidence that perhaps he was the true author.
For example, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” is likely where we got the popular names for Santa’s reindeer – there seems to be no reference to their names prior to the poem. The latter two reindeer recited were called “Dunder” and “Blixem,” (the Dutch words for “Thunder” and “Lightning.”) These days the correct Dutch translation would be “donder” and “bliksem.” We know them as Donner and Blitzen.
Also, at least four of Livingston’s children and even a neighbor girl said they remembered Henry telling them the tale of St. Nick as early as 1807. They had evidence – a dated copy of the original poem with revisions and scratch marks. Unfortunately, the house containing this handwritten paper burned down, taking the Livingston family’s proof with it.
Generally, the theory that Moore did not write the poem was not taken seriously until Professor Don Foster from Vassar College analyzed a body of poetry from both authors. He declared that there was virtually no possible way Moore could have written “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” The modern scholar used “linguistic forensics” to study the style of writing and claimed in 2000 that “A Night Before Christmas” was probably not written by Moore. The style of the Christmas favorite was completely different – both structurally and content-wise – than anything else Moore had ever written. But the anapestic scheme used matched up with some of Livingston’s work perfectly.
One reason for speculation about the authorship of the famous poem is simply because Moore was regarded as a very serious scholar. And a cheerful holiday poem about a “jolly old elf” is like nothing else Moore had ever written.
But, there is no definitive proof either way and to date it remains one family’s word against the other.
From its beginning, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ has painted visions of Santa Claus in our heads through its rhyming verse. Most of us can recite the lines by memory, having grown up with it from childhood.
It is certainly a wonderful poem that I have enjoyed for years. The mystery of its author does not diminish the popularity of the story. For me, Christmas has never been about the commercial aspect of the season. In our hearts, let us not forget to celebrate the true meaning behind the holiday and sing praise.
Sending warm wishes to you and your family during this holiday season. May your home be blessed with love and happiness.
We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.
O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.