Thursday, December 1, 2011

Who Really Wrote "The Night Before Christmas?"

Presented by Paisley Kirkpatrick

(A short excerpt of this Christmas story)

'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.

For almost 180 years, families have loved and shared a joyous poem of Christmas with their families. The poem, A VISIT FROM ST. NICHOLAS, more commonly known as 'TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, has been a classic since its first appearance in the Troy Sentinel in 1823. The poem was published anonymously and, as excitement over the verses grew, everyone wanted to know the name of the author. In 1837 Clement Clarke Moore, a biblical scholar in New York City, allowed his name to be attached as author and, in 1844, he included the piece in his own book, POEMS. Moore explained that he had written the poem on the Christmas Eve of 1823.

One would think that that would have put the issue to rest. But there was a problem.

The problem was that for at least fifteen years before the poem saw the light of a Troy New York day, by 1808 at the latest, a group of children had been listening to Henry Livingston read them the poem.
And all four of them - Charles, the oldest, and his next-door-neighbor bride Eliza, second son Sidney, and third son Edwin - all remembered the event and their pleasure in the poem.

Whether Henry, dead by the time Moore took credit for the poem, would have cared for the fame and attention is doubtful.

Whether he would have appreciated someone appropriating his work, though, is a completely different thing.

For over a century and a half, those who remembered have passed on the story to the next generation. Descendants collected one another's memories in the hopes that some stray thread would be found that could be pulled on, and maybe, just maybe, unravel the curtain preventing their story from emerging. But for all that time, and all that effort, the Livingston descendants failed to make a case strong enough to put up against the word of the son of the Rector of New York City's Trinity Church. There was no smoking gun. The original in Henry's handwriting had burned in a Wisconsin fire.

Taken from Christmas Tree Farm Network


  1. Wow, Paisley, I had never heard this story. Thanks for unearthing it and sharing.

  2. This is news to me. It's so interesting that a high-ranking church official in New York took credit for it--just goes to show that plagarism was alive and well even that far back--as well as lying and deceit. Such a shame the Livingston family couldn't make their case..but it's understandable. Going on memories and heresay is hardly ever something that holds up in court.
    Still, though, I choose to believe that the original author was Livingston.
    You do find the most intriguing tales to share with us...and thanks for kicking off our December posts in grand style!
    Love it...

  3. What a shame for his family! Hard to believe someone else would take the credit for writing the poem.

    Great post!

  4. Paisley, what an interesting story! I guess it boils down to who said what, and who had the most credibility. Like Celia, I'm choosing to believe that credit goes to Livinston. After nearly 200 years and the house fire in Wisconsin, I guess we'll never really know.

  5. Interesting. A case of plagiarism unfamiliar to many of us.

  6. Well I'll be, you really do learn something new every day. What research.

  7. Thanks, Caroline. I'd never this about who the author was. I memorized this story at one time and just love it.

  8. Thank you, Celia. I would like to think the children carry the memories of hearing Livingston read the story to them. :)

  9. Nice to see you here, Susan. I agree, it is a shame someone had to take the glory and pretend it was his story.

  10. Jacquie, I think you're right. Since it doesn't seem to be common knowledge unless you find it by accident like I did, nobody knows or will know the difference.

  11. jrlindermuth - thanks for checking out the blog today. I love discovering new things and this fact caught me offguard.

  12. Hi Sarah! I like to find at least something new every day, but always accomplish this.

  13. Interesting post. I love reading things like this. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Paisley, I have to tell my daughter about this. Fascinating story about the original writer and the man who put his name on the story. She memorized the poem when she was pre-school, about age 4. It was one of her favorite holiday stories, so we read it to her quite often. ;-)
    I love the poem too. Thanks for the blog about it.

  15. Thank you for coming for a visit with me, Anna Kathryn. :)

  16. Thanks Jeanmarie. I also memorized the story, probably because I read it so often to my younger daughter. It is a delightful story that can put a smile even on the sourest face. :)


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