‘Tis December 24, the day before Christmas, and all through the land, families send excited children to bed with a reading of Clement Moore’s classic poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”
‘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….
A Visit from St. Nicholas, by Clement C. Moore. Boston: L Prang & Co., . Rare Book & Special Collections Division
Moore is thought to have composed the tale, now popularly known as “The Night Before Christmas,” on December 24, 1822, while traveling home from Greenwich Village, where he had bought a turkey to fill the last of several baskets that his family was accustomed to donating to the poor during the holiday season.
Perhaps inspired by the plump, bearded Dutchman who took him by sleigh on his errand through the snow-covered streets of New York City, Moore penned “A Visit from St. Nicholas” for the amusement of his six children, with whom he shared the poem that evening. His vision of St. Nicholas draws upon Dutch-American and Norwegian traditions of a magical, gift-giving figure who appears at Christmas time, and was likely influenced by descriptions of St. Nicholas appearing in several publications from recent years, including Washington Irving’s A History of New YorkExternal.
Clement Moore was born in 1779 into a prominent New York family. His father, Benjamin Moore, president of Columbia University, in his role as Episcopal bishop of New York participated in the inauguration of George Washington as the nation’s first president. The elder Moore also administered last rites to Alexander Hamilton after he was mortally wounded in a tragic duel with Aaron Burr.
A graduate of Columbia, Clement Moore was a scholar of Hebrew and a professor of Oriental and Greek literature at the General Theological Seminary in Manhattan. He is said to have been embarrassed by the light-hearted verse, which was made public without his knowledge in December 1823. Moore did not publish it under his name until 1844.
…But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”
A Visit from St. Nicholas, by Clement C. Moore. Boston: L. Prang & Co., . Rare Book & Special Collections Division
- Although the real Santa does not like to be seen, much less photographed, he has been sighted in the collections. To find more pictures of the jolly old elf, search the photographic collections on Santa Claus.
- Read the famous editorial and other newspaper articles in response to the question “Is there a Santa Claus?” posed by eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon in 1897. These are compiled in the special Topics in Chronicling America – Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus. Search the Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers database for additional holiday stories.
- To hear Christmas music sung in a variety of languages, search on Christmas in California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties Collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell.
- Listen to recordings of “The Night Before Christmas”, as well as “Santa Claus Hides in Your Phonograph,” performed by Harry E. Humphrey, for stories of Santa.
- Search on the terms Christmas, holly, or Santa Claus in the Library’s notated music collections to find songs appropriate to the season, such as “Miss Fogarty’s Christmas Cake” by C. Frank Horn (1883) and “The One Horse Open Sleigh” (“Jingle Bells”).
- Search the American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940 collection on Christmas Eve or Santa Claus to locate recollections of holidays past. After retrieving a list of hits, click on the View link associated with each item to jump to the relevant segment of the piece.
- Visit the collection The American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment, 1870-1920 to view a 1935 Christmas card from Mrs. Harry Houdini.
- View Maryland quiltmaker Julia Weber’s “Christmas Quilt,” Maryland State Winner of 1992, in the collection Quilts and Quiltmaking in America, 1978 to 1996.