“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
Each Christmas Eve our newspaper publishes this famous poem by Clement C. Moore and I’ve enjoyed reading it with my family each year. There are four lines in this poem that have a different meaning to me now that I live in Northwestern Montana. I did not appreciate these sentiments when I lived in the south.
And Mama in her ‘kerchief and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.
Winter sunrises come late and the sun sets early in Montana at the western edge of the mountain time zone. Long winter’s naps are common and it’s understandable why someone may want to wear a night cap to bed for warmth – nothing I would have ever considered before moving north.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the luster of midday to objects below.
Moonlight reflecting off of a fresh blanket of snow and lighting up a winter’s night is something I had never experienced as a child. It was not until I moved to Montana did I fully understand this simple pleasure.
A brief note about the author and the poem.
Clement Clarke Moore’s famous poem, which he named “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” was published for the first time on December 23, 1823 by a New York newspaper, the Sentinel. Since then, the poem has been reprinted, translated into innumerable languages and circulated throughout the world.
Clement Clarke Moore was born in 1779 to a well-known New York family. His father, Reverend Benjamin Moore, was president of (what is now) Columbia University and was the Episcopal Bishop of New York. Moore’s father also participated in George Washington’s first inauguration and gave last rites to Alexander Hamilton after Hamilton was mortally wounded in an 1804 duel with Aaron Burr. Moore himself was an author, a noted Hebrew scholar, spoke five languages, and was an early real-estate owner and developer in Manhattan.
Despite his accomplishments, Clement Clarke Moore is remembered only for “Twas’ the Night Before Christmas,” which legend says he wrote on Christmas Eve in 1822 during a sleigh ride home from Greenwich Village after buying a turkey for his family. Some say the inspiration for Moore’s pot bellied St. Nicholas was the chubby Dutchman who drove Moore to Greenwich to buy his holiday turkey. Moore never copyrighted his poem, and only claimed it as his own over a decade after it was first made public.
Moore read the poem to his wife and six children the night he wrote it, and supposedly thought no more about it. But a family friend heard about it and submitted the poem to the Sentinel, a newspaper in upstate New York, which published it anonymously the following Christmas. Moore’s poem immediately caught the attention and imagination of the state, then the nation, and then the world. Finally, in 1844, he included it in a book of his poetry. Moore died in 1863 and is buried in Trinity Church Cemetery in lower Manhattan, New York. Because of this “mere trifle,” as he called it, 185 years ago Clement Clarke Moore almost single-handedly defined our now timeless image of Santa Claus.
May the spirit of the season fill your heart throughout the year!