A Visit from St. Nicholas
By Clement Clarke Moore – 1779-1863
‘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 our brains 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 head, 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 pedler 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.”
About This Poem
I know very few poems by heart, but I can say this one all the way through from memory. It was always a favorite of mine during my childhood. My mother used to read it to us when I was young, so it always brings back fond memories of a happy childhood, back when life was innocent and simple.
On December 23, 1823, a poem called “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” was published anonymously in the Sentinel, the local newspaper of Troy, New York. This piece offered a different take on Santa Claus, a figure who was, until that time, traditionally depicted as a thinner, less jolly, horse-riding disciplinarian, a combination of mythologies about the British Father Christmas, the Dutch Sinterklaas, and the fourth-century bishop Saint Nicholas of Myra.
The poem in the newspaper painted a different picture: it gave Santa eight reindeer, and even named them; it described a Santa who could magically sneak in and out of homes via chimneys; and it created the venerated, cheerful, chubby icon that is everpresent in holiday cards, movies, television shows, and malls everywhere. The poem, of course, is now known as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” after its famous first line. Thirteen years after it was published, Clement Clark Moore took credit for its authorship, though his claim to the poem is now in question. Many believe the poem was actually penned by New York writer Henry Livingston.
About the Poet
Clement Clarke Moore was born on July 15, 1779, in New York City. He received a BA from Columbia College in 1798 and an MA in 1801. Moore was the author of Poems (Barlett & Welford, 1844), which included the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Moore also published several academic works, including A Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language(Collins & Perkins, 1809). He taught at the General Theological Seminary in New York City from 1821 to 1850. He died on July 10, 1863, in Newport, Rhode Island.