A Visit From St. Nicholas
By Clement C. Moore

Clement Moore's Christmas poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas;" eventually became Known throughout the world by its opening phrase, "Twas The Night Before Christmas" Both titles are used in different versions of the classic.

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On Christmas Eve 1822, Reverend Clement Moore's wife was roasting turkeys for distribution to the poor of the local parish, a yearly tradition discovered that she was short one turkey, she asked Moore to venture into the snowy streets to obtain another. He called for his sleigh and coachman, and drove "downtown" to Jefferson Market, which is now the Bowery section of New York City, to buy the needed turkey. Moore composed the poem while riding in his sleigh; his ears obviously full of the jingle of sleigh bells. He returned with the turkey and the new Christmas poem. After dinner that evening, Moore read the new verses to his family, to the evident delight of his children. Some months afterwards, Moore's children told a visiting friend of their father's wonderful Christmas verses. A Miss Butler copied the poem into her album and the next December, probably unaware of Moore's intention to keep his poem private, she sent a copy to the Troy Sentinel. It was published there anonymously on December 23, 1823, under the editor's title "A Visit from St. Nicholas". Moore's authorship remained a secret until 1837,. when he allowed his name to be used when the poem was anthologized in The New York Book of Poetry. Later, it was included in Moore's Poems (New York. 1844). a small collection of his verse which he published for distribution to Mends and family. Since then, it has been reprinted countless times, loved by children of all ages for over 100 years.

The manuscript shown here is one of only four surviving copies of the world's most loved poem, The original draft has never been discovered, and probably no longer exists. The three other manuscripts are at the New York Historical Society, the Huntington Library in California, and the Strong Museum of Rochester, NY.

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Clement C. Moore (1779-1863), the son of Benjamin Moore, second Protestant Episcopal Bishop of New York and President of King's College, graduated from Columbia University in 1798. Moore's family owned extensive lands in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, on the Hudson, and it was Moore's gift of some 60 acres of land in 1819, which made possible the establishment of the General Theological Seminary, where Moore himself taught Oriental languages, biblical learning and scripture interpretation from 1821 to 1850. An eminent lay theologian and scholar, Moore was the author of 4 Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language, the first such work published in America and as a young man published an anonymous criticism of Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia. Moore lived not far from the new seminary (on present-day 23rd Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues in New York City).


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1] In the year 2000, Don Foster, an English professor at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, used external and internal evidence to show that Clement Clarke Moore could not have been the author of this poem, but that it was probably the work of Livingston, and that Moore had written another, and almost forgotten, Christmas piece, "Old Santeclaus." Foster's analysis of this deception appears in his Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous (New York: Henry Holt, 2000): 221-75.

22] Later revised to "Donder and Blitzen" by Clement Clarke Moore when he took credit for the poem in Poems (New York: Bartlett and Welford, 1844).

Online text copyright C 2009, Ian Lancashire (the Department of English) and the University of Toronto. Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original Text: Don Foster, Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous (New York: Henry Holt, 2000): 222-24.
First publication date: 23 December 1823
Publication date note: Troy Sentinel (Dec. 23, 1823).
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998-2000.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/18

University of Toronto Libraries
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Thomas H. Nast, who also invented the Elephant/Donkey symbols of the two major American political parties, created the first modern Santa Claus in 1881, based on Moore's poem. However, it took nearly a century until the canonical Santa Claus in a red and white trimmed suit appeared in a Coca-Cola ad in 1931. Modern illustrations (for instance, Arthur Rackham's 1931 St. Nick) show the reindeer as full-sized, rather than 'tiny:' in the 1848 Boyd illustrations they look about the size of dogs. The ninth reindeer, Rudolph, was invented by a Montgomery Ward copywriter, Robert L. May, of Evanston Illinois, in 1939.

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