‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
or Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas
Major Henry Livingston Jr. (1748-1828)
(previously believed to be by Clement Clarke Moore)
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;
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,
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.
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,
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;
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!”
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.
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.
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 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;
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.
Until recently it was believed that this ballad was written in 1822 for Clement Clarke Moore‘s two daughters, Margaret and Charity, and later anonymously published in the Troy [New York] Sentinel on December 23, 1823. But, according to University of Toronto English Library, in 2000, Don Foster, in his book Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous (New York: Henry Holt, 2000) was able to demonstrate that Moore could not have been the author. Foster concluded that it was probably written by Major Henry Livingston Jr. For another analysis of the authorship see Christmas (Moore or Less?).
Visit A Mouse in Henry Livingston’s House for a biography and an account of the quest to correct the authorship of this poem.
According to sources cited at University of Toronto English Library, the last two reindeer were origianlly Dunder and Blixem and were “[l]ater revised to ‘Donder and Blitzen’ by Clement Clarke Moore when he took credit for the poem in Poems (New York: Bartlett and Welford, 1844).”