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'Twas the Night Before Christmas



New York City Event Guide

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

How was Christmas celebrated before A Visit from St Nicholas came along? And why do we give presents on Christmas Day?

A Visit From St Nicholas

(The Night Before Christmas)

by Clement Clarke Moore

'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 luster 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!


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."

Clement Clarke Moore was a scholar, educator and accidental poet born in New York City 1769. A member of a well to do family long associated with Trinity Church (his father was Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York), Moore graduated from Trinity-associated Columbia College at age 29. The family background led him to the classics and theology; he became a Hebrew scholar and, by 1809, well known for his work A Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language

Moore inherited an impressive parcel of land, known as Chelsea. It stretched from present day 14th Street to 30th Street, from 6th Avenue to the Hudson River. During the boom years following the War of 1812 and the opening of the Erie Canal the City was rushing northward. It burst through Delancey-, Stuyvesant-, Brevoort- and Dyckman-owned lands on the East side, rolled over Greenwich Village on the West and made a dash for the frontier north of 14th Street. Moore, in an attempt to keep his family lands in a somewhat unspoiled state, fought the opening of streets and stopped the push up the West Side. For the moment.

By the mid-1820s Moore was laying out the City streets he fought a few years earlier. Two of his legacies are the land and funds donated for the construction of the General Theological Seminary between 20th and 21st Streets, between 9th and 10th Avenues, and St Peter's Episcopal Church across 9th Avenue at 20th Street. Moore served as a professor at the Seminary until 1850

But for all of his accomplishments, what Clement Clarke Moore is most noted is one he did not acknowledge until, depending on the source, 1837 or 1844. A Visit From St Nicholas had as its genesis Washington Irving's books A Knickerbocker's History of New York and Sketch Book. These works reinvented the Dutch history of New York and introduced 'Sancte Claus.' Many of the more reserved Knickerbocker families recoiled at the rowdy Christmas festivities (more Bacchanalian celebrations of the Winter solstice than the birth of Christ) that were then current and were looking for a suitable family holiday with which to replace it. They tried, appropriately enough, St Nicholas Day on December 6th, but after a few attempts, this failed. The Santa Claus character made a hit though and, when Moore moved his Santa Claus visit from St Nicholas Day to Christmas Eve he unknowingly invented Christmas as it has since been celebrated

Moore wrote A Visit From St Nicholas as a poem for his children in 1822. Sent by one of Moore's friends to a newspaper in Troy, NY, The Night Before Christmas was first published in 1823. By 1850, by way of the Erie Canal, Christmas had moved out of New York City to the entire country




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