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A Visit from St. Nicholas

“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…” reads the familiar poem most of us know as “The Night Before Christmas.” However, that title isn’t really correct.

Caught in the Act. 1900. Prints and Photographs Division. Summary: Santa Claus on top of chimney. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-98173 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: SSF - Holidays--Christmas <item> [P&P] “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. 1911. Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Reproduction Information: LCCN: http://lccn.loc.gov/47037729

Clement Moore first penned the poem in 1822, under the title “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” Moore is thought to have composed the tale on Christmas Eve of that year, while traveling home from Greenwich Village, where he had bought a turkey for his family's Christmas dinner.

Inspired by the plump, bearded Dutchman who took him by sleigh on his errand through the snow-covered streets of New York City, Moore wrote the poem for the amusement of his six children. His vision of St. Nicholas draws upon Dutch-American and Norwegian traditions of a magical, gift-giving figure that appears at Christmas time, as well as the German legend of a visitor who enters homes through chimneys.

A graduate of Columbia, Moore was a scholar of Hebrew and a professor of Oriental and Greek literature at the General Theological Seminary in Manhattan. He was said to have been embarrassed by the work, which was made public without his knowledge in December 1823. Moore did not publish it under his name until 1844.

The Library has other reproductions of Moore’s famous poem in the online presentation An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera.

Another Christmas tale, “A Christmas Carol,” follows the story of a miser, who learns the true meaning of the holiday after being visited by ghosts from his past, present and future. The book is just one of several classics presented on the Library’s read.gov site.

From reading these classic stories, to exchanging presents, to eating turkey feasts, Christmas is a time for traditions, with people around the world celebrating in their own way. For a look into how many of these customs began, jump back in time with "America's Story from America's Library," a fun website that puts the “story back in history.”