Twas the Night Before Christmas, or A Visit From St Nicholas by Clement C. Moore, with illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith.
Quick Review (read on for full review)
Beautiful, charming and timeless. A delight to read. 5 / 5
Summary (from Goodreads)
This poem first appeared in a newspaper in Troy, New York, USA, on December 23, 1823, as “A Visit From St. Nicholas”. No one claimed authorship until 13 years later. Clement Clarke Moore, a professor and poet, said that he wrote the piece for his children. Unbeknownst to him, his housekeeper had sent it to the newspaper to be published. However, the family of Henry Livingston Jr. contended that their father had been reciting “A Visit from St. Nicholas” for 15 years prior to publication. Regardless of the true author, the poem is now a Christmas classic.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself
This Christmas was the first time (that I can remember) reading this poem from beginning to end. Of course, this poem is so well known that, even without having read it, some of its lines are easy to quote. But I’m so glad that I found the time this year to read it.
The edition I read was from 1912, via Project Gutenberg, and was beautifully illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith. My favourite picture was the stockings hanging from the mantlepiece – it’s such a typically festive Christmas scene.
I don’t think I quite realised just how old the poem is. It was first published in 1823 and, to give that a little context, it was published twenty years before Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Neither did I realise “Twas the Night Before Christmas” isn’t actually its title, but “A Visit From St Nicholas”, though the poem is more commonly known by its first line. Something else I discovered this Christmas is that there is argument for attributing the writing of this poem to a different author.
The poem is beautiful and charming and conjures up many ideas we associate with Christmas to this day (for example, Santa’s sleigh is pulled by eight reindeer – Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen – stockings hanging from the mantlepiece, St Nick entering the house via the chimney). And, apart from a few archaic words, which have been changed out and modernised with later publishing, it could have been written much more recently for the audiences of today.
Even as an adult reading it, there is much joy to be found in the poem, and I have no doubt I will read the poem again, in its entirety, next year, and probably for all the Christmas’ after that!