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The Mystery of ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas

Who really wrote this classic verse?

By:  |  December 24, 2020  |    1005 Words
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It may come as a surprise that one of the most delightful Christmas traditions is surrounded by mystery. The poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas has been read to children across the world on Christmas Eve for more than a century. But the origin of this enchanting work stays mysterious to this day.

Mr. Livingston, I Presume?

Two families have been bickering over who wrote the poem: the Livingstons and the Moores. While most people think that Clement Clarke Moore penned the poem, the Livingston family has some evidence that puts this in doubt.

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‘Twas the Night Before Christmas was first printed in the Troy Sentinel, a New York newspaper, two days before the Christmas of 1823. Editor Orville Holley admitted it was not clear who the author was, saying:

“We know not to whom we are indebted for the following description of … that homely and delightful personage of parental kindness, Santa Claus, his costumes, and his equipage, as he goes about visiting the firesides of this happy land, laden with Christmas bounties; but from whomsoever it may have come, we give thanks for it.”

Descendants of Henry Livingston say their ancestor wrote the famous verses. They have many family stories of when and where Livingston wrote and recited the poem.

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Literary experts have examined both men’s written works. Moore was a serious author with a theological background. We was a professor and wrote advanced academic works like the Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language. Moore was known as a harsh and demanding father of nine children.

On the other hand, Livingston’s works have a similar style to ’Twas the Night Before Christmas. His writings carried a “light, joking style,” and he was known by friends and family as a “good-natured humorist at heart.”

Perhaps the best argument in favor of Livingston’s being the author is something called “anapestic meter.” This poetic structure was used in 45 of Livingston’s works (including ’Twas the Night Before Christmas), while Moore was known to write using another method, called “iambic meter.”

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And so it seems the authorship of this poem will remain a mystery. But that should not stop children of all ages from enjoying it. Without further ado, we publish ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas here for your enjoyment:

‘Twas The Night Before Christmas

By Clement C. Moore or Henry Livingston

‘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.

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(Photo by GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)

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 hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

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(Photo by GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)

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;

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(Illustration by GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)

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!”

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