'Twas the Night Before Christmas
by Clement C. Moore

Clement C. Moore's A Visit from St. Nicholas:
'Twas the Night Before Christmas

Children's book review by Jane Finch.

Ages 3-8

Was This The Beginning of Santa Claus?

Read the famous poem below.

It is said that this wonderful tale was the beginning of the legend of Santa Claus, including the way he looks.

“Twas the Night Before Christmas” has also been known as “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” and “The Night Before Christmas”.

So how many people know that this story was the first introduction to the number of names of Santa’s reindeer, and the tradition of Santa (or Saint Nick) bringing toys to children at Christmas?

This story is told in poem, and of course the first few lines are well known:

'Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a mouse....

What actually happens in the poem is that the setting is Christmas Eve. A man is in his house and his wife and children are sleeping. For some reason he wakes up, and sees Saint Nicholas riding in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer. The sleigh lands on his roof.

Entering the house through the chimney (of course) he fills up the children’s stockings with toys and gifts. The man watches, and then Saint Nicholas flies away in his sleigh, wishing everyone a merry Christmas.

Of course, it is a very simple tale, but it is at the root of every traditional Christmas story about Santa Claus.

We are not told the father’s name, although the story is told from his point of view and in the first person.

I love the description of Santa Claus, there is so much character given, such as cheeks like roses and a nose like a cherry. I had to smile when I read he had a stump of a pipe in his mouth, with smoke curling around him. I guess these days to have Santa Claus smoking would not be quite politically correct. However, it suits this character perfectly.

The poem itself was first published anonymously in 1823 and it was not until a year later that it was acknowledged as the work of Clement Clarke Moore.

I really enjoy traditional Christmas stories and this is just about as perfect as one can get. Fine, so we may need to gloss over the fact old Santa Claus is smoking a pipe, but I doubt the children will even notice, they will be so beguiled by the lilt and rhyme and fun of this poem.

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night."

Browse various editions of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas books.

Webmaster's note:

Clement Moore's classic has been around long enough that it is in the public domain. We are pleased to be able to post it in its entirety right here! (Page down.)

illustration by Jesse Wilcox Smith, courtesy of Project Gutenberg

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 our brains 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 lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny 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, on Donner 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 head, 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!"

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