‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ 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…
How can so few words conjure up so much nostalgia and capture our imagination, year in, year out? This much-loved seasonal rhyme is the basis for so much of the folklore surrounding good old Santa Claus – what he looks like, his reindeer names and how he gets down the chimney! But what is especially intriguing is that it was first published anonymously in 1823 and ever since then, the authorship has been somewhat questionable.
Who would have the generosity of spirit to write such a magical poem and never claim the kudos? Well, in 1837 the poem was attributed to the American poet, Clement Clarke Moore (they just don’t name ’em like that these days!) and in 1844 he included the poem in an anthology, claiming his authorship of the poem. However, a professor of English in New York by the name of Donald Foster, challenged the authorship and believes that it was written by Henry Livingston Jr., a New York poet with Dutch and Scottish roots.
Having analysed the text, he was convinced that the phraseology and the optimistic approach was much more consistent with Livingston’s style than Moore’s. But the real argument (in my opinion) is Livingston’s Dutch heritage. The references to Saint Nicholas are very closely related to the Dutch ‘Sinteklaes’ tradition, with the reindeer names originally printed as ‘Dunder and Blixem’, Dutch for thunder and lightening.
Despite the fact that Livingston’s children also claimed that he had read them the poem before its publication, he never claimed authorship himself. Could it be the spirit of Christmas, to gift something so wonderful to the public without seeking recognition? There was even a mock trial held as recently as 2014 in New York, which reached the surprise verdict (hold on to your hats people) that Major Henry Livingston Jr is the true author of ‘Twas the night before Christmas’. Read all about it here http://christmastrial.com/
Maybe it’s just the fact that I always root for the underdog, but for whatever reason, my money is on Livingston. Unless of course it is as Virginia Woolf once said – For most of history, anonymous was a woman. Maybe we’ll never know the true author, but either way, it is the most magical Christmas poem ever written and you can enjoy it in full here.
And if you’re looking for a book to lose yourself in over the holidays, why not get a copy of The Story Collector – there is no authorship controversy and I take full responsibility for the magic that inks every page!