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Season's Greetings! A New Take on "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"…

posted: 12.22.09 by archived

Clement Clarke Moore’s seminal 1823 Christmas poem “A Visit from Saint Nick”—which became “The Night Before Christmas” and a world-wide favorite—is as emblematic of the holiday season¬† as candy canes, snowmen, and loop-tracked rock’n’roll holiday tunes in retail stores.

However, new research suggests that Moore, a biblical scholar, might have plagiarized the poem.

It’s true: The poem that gave us the roly-poly, white-beard-donning, red-suit-wearing Santa, along with his reindeer, from Dasher to Blitzen (sorry Rudolph!) in fact might have been written by Henry Livingston Jr., “a gentleman-poet of Dutch descent,” says Don Foster, English professor at Vassar College.

The poem was first published anonymously in a Troy, New York, newspaper. Only after Livingston had died did Moore claim to be its author. It was a time when gentlemen often published anonymously, considering newspaper publications beneath them.

Foster’s literary analysis as well as the sleuthing of Livingston’s heirs suggests that Moore could not have penned the often imitated and parodied poem (“A Florida Night Before Christmas”? “A Laboratory Night Before Christmas”?). For one thing, Moore, who owned much of what is now the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, was too much of a grouch. As the New York Times writes, “He took a stern approach to being a parent, and his poems and writings often focused on the annoying noise of ‘clamorish girls’ and ‘boisterous boys.'”

Authorship might be a moot point now, anyway: This poem has almost become a part of the fabric of Christmas itself.

As well as the classic 1950s scene rendered in the YouTube video above, you can also hear Bob Dylan recite the poem on his XM radio show, or build your own made-to-order¬†“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” using “crazy libs” to sub in certain words for others.

Whatever you decide, enjoy these poetic tidbits—and enjoy your well-deserved holidays.

Teaching Poetry will be on a two week hiatus now until January. We’ll see you in the New Year.

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Categories: Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature
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