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 “‘Twas the night before Christmas”

HolidaysSherlyn Meinz
AlienLove Staff Writer

I think almost everyone must be familiar with this poem, but I will include it for those who may not have it memorized! For almost 200 years its authorship has been ascribed to Clement Moore, who allegedly wrote it for his two daughters Margaret and Charity. The Troy(NY) Sentinel published it anonymously on December 23, 1823. However, recent research has shown that the ballad may not have been written by Moore at all…

'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;…

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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 down 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 tiny 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!
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!”

The ballad is now being ascribed to Major Henry Livingston, Jr., who was born in Poughkeepsie, New York on October 13, 1748. He came from a family that was important in colonial New York, in fact, the first Lt. Governor of NY was his granduncle. And believe it or not, our president, George W. Bush is a descendant of Henry Livingston’s brother, Gilbert!

Henry Livingston was known for his love of literature and for having encyclopedic knowledge. He was a farmer, surveyor, and Justice of the Peace. He was also one of the first New Yorkers to enlist in the Revolutionary Army in 1775. He fathered 12 children, and died in 1828.

Don Foster, was able to provide evidence that Mr. Moore was not the author of ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas’ in his book, ‘Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous.’ One of Henry Livingston’s descendents, Mary Van Deusen, details a twisted path of relatives, friends and publishers as the ballad is handed around, published anonymously, until a friend of Mr. Moore’s apparently put his name on it.

Ms. Van Dusen has put together an incredible timeline of events related to the ballad. The key element being a governess who visited the Livingstons, and then took a copy of the ballad “down south” when she left to work for a member of the Moore family. She apparently also left a copy of the poem with Clement Moore.

The history begins in 1773 and continues right through to the present time, with copies of the original writing being found, lost and refound a number of times. She also tells how the names of two of the reindeer, Dunder and Blixem, were changed from their original to Donder and Blitzen. These changes came about through editors and via Mr. Moore.

This ballad has delighted millions for almost two centuries, if it was indeed written by Major Henry Livingston, Jr., I guess it’s about time he got the credit!

Visit: http://www.iment.com/maida/familytree/henry/" for more information on Major Henry Livingston, Jr., his history, other works, and to view copies of the ‘proofs’ available.

The New York Times did an article on this subject on October 26, 2000: Whose Jolly Old Elf Is That, Anyway? By David Kirkpatrick
Copy of New York Times Article.

To read selected poetry of Major Henry Livingston, you may wish to visit the University of Toronto Library. http://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poet/204.html

Discuss this article in our forums.

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