The best Christmas book (no matter who authored it…..)
The Night Before Christmas
When I was growing up, there was only one Christmas book. I received it in a gift exchange in the third grade. A hardback, actually, and although thin, its dimensions were approximately 16” x 12”. I usually got the short end of the deal in gift exchanges, but this year, I thought I was the lucky one! The book was bright red, and so shiny it appeared wet.
I remember reading it over and over until I memorized it in its entirety. To this day, I can quote the complete book. Several years ago, I decided I wanted to buy a copy and make it a tradition to read this story to my children every Christmas Eve. I did buy it, and now my children, although past the ages of being read to, can quote the entire book as well.
Imagine my surprise when I read that author, Professor Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863) might not be the actual originator. Literary Detective and Vassar College professor Donald W. Foster (remember “Primary Colors?”) believes that evidence is pretty strong that the actual author was Major Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828).
In the November 13, 2001 issue of PEOPLE, and article titled Poetic Injustice cites part of the evidence is that Moore, who was a wealthy New York City Bible Scholar only took credit for the poem, publishing it in 1844, after he’d written to a Troy, N. Y. newspaper to see if anyone could remember its origin (no one could).
Also, it appears that Moore was a bit of a grinch. Foster went on to say, “He (Moore) was quite the curmudgeon,” pointing out that in his other writings Moore moralized against earthly pleasures, complained about children’s “noisiness” and scorned smoking, though St. Nick puffs a pipe.
Another clue that Foster found to be strong evidence is that Moore repeated a printer’s error that changed two reindeer’s names from Dunder and Blixem, the Dutch words for thunder and lightening, to Donder and Blitzen. Livingston was Dutch; Moore wasn’t.
Foster’s analysis of this deception appears in his book, Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous (New York: Henry Holt, 2000.
Although most likely written around 1807, the poem about St. Nicholas bounding down the chimney first made its way into the hearts of children of all ages in 1823. Of course, knowing who actually wrote it doesn’t change our love for it; it only makes it more intriguing. Acknowledgements are already changing from Moore to Livingston, although Amazon.com still gives Moore as the author. This Christmas if you have the opportunity to read A visit from St. Nicholas, more commonly known as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, think of Henry Livingston.
By the way, Livingston was the father of twelve children. His poems were published in a variety of periodicals before his death in 1828 at the age of 80. Livingston often used the word “all” as an adverb, as in “all through the house” and “all snug in their beds,” and his horses were named “Dunder” and “Blixem”.
the night before Christmas, when all thro' the house,
sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
a little old driver, so lively and quick,