'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; 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! On, Comet! On Cupid! On, Donder and Blitzen! 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 hand, 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."
Artwork by John A. Hows from Christmas In Art And Song. New York: The Arundel Printing and Publishing Company, 1879.
"The Visit of Saint Nicholas" Issued by John H. Wolff, Stationer, Philadelphia
"A Visit from St. Nicholas" Illustrated by F.O.C. Darley (New York: James G. Gregory, 1862)
Public Domain Recordings:
In the early 1800s, several publications published poems about Santa Claus, including The Spectator (1815), and The Children’s Friend. In 1821, a small, sixteen-page booklet appeared, titled A New Year’s Present for the Little Ones from Five to Twelve, Part III. It was about Christmas, and was the first to picture Santa Claus in a sleigh drawn by a reindeer (see right).
It isn’t known whether Dr. Clement Clarke Moore had read any of these, but Dr. Moore did know of Washington Irving or at least of his work, including Knickerbocker's History of New York, which contained descriptions of the Dutch Santa Claus. Irving’s phrase "laying his finger beside his nose" was used in the poem by Dr. Clement Clarke Moore, "A Visit from St. Nicholas," more commonly known as "The Night Before Christmas." Dr. Moore gathered elements of European lore, deities and folk-characters, added to them contemporary lore and Washington Irving, and created a poem that was to become the gospel of Santa Claus. His verse expanded the mode of transport from a single reindeer to a team of eight. And it is Moore's description of Santa that we most often think of today: "He had a broad face, and a little round belly, that shook, when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly."
Moore added such details as the names of the reindeer (Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder – not Donner -- and Blitzen); Santa Claus's laughs, winks, and nods; and the method by which Saint Nicholas, referred to as an elf, returns up the chimney.
By the way, "Donder" got changed to "Donner" in the Robert L. May children’s book, "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1939).
Dr. Moore purportedly composed the poem in 1822, to read to his then six children on Christmas Eve. The poem might have remained privately in the Moore family if a friend, Miss Harriet Butler of Troy, New York, had not send a copy of it — without permission — to Orville L. Holly, editor of a newspaper. It was published for the first time in the Troy (New York) Sentinel on December 23, 1823, without attribution. Although it was reprinted numerous times in the next few years, Moore did not allow his name to be associated with it until 1844 when he included it in a volume of his poetry.
The poem was printed in the 1837 New York Book of Poetry, but did not cite Moore as author. However, the Troy Budget acknowledged Moore’s authorship on December 25, 1838.
For more information about Moore, see S. W. Patterson, The Poet of Christmas Eve (1956).
The original manuscript by Dr. Moore has been lost, however, he did produce other long-hand versions of his now famous poem. One of these hand-written, signed copies of the poem was sold for $255,500 at a Christie’s auction in 1994. Dr. Moore wrote the facsimile that reproduced on a separate page.
There were subsequently many different publications, each illustrated according to the characteristics dictated by the poem, published from 1823 onwards. One of the first illustrated copies was the reprint by the Troy Sentinel in 1830; the engraving by Myron B. King showed Santa with sleigh and eight reindeer on a roof. A copy is reproduced left.
There is a dispute concerning the authorship of this poem. For more information, see A Quandary - Part 1 of 2.