In the classic Christmas poem, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” the writer describes a home in which not a creature stirred on Christmas Eve — not even a mouse — and on Thursday, not even exuberant preschoolers stirred during Brenda Putnam’s story time at the Leesburg branch of the Highland County District Library as she read the old fable.
Library staff told The Times-Gazette that the holiday poem was read in all of Highland County District Library’s branches during story times this month, and it will likely be read in many more homes around the county before the year is through, delighting youngsters with a dramatic narrative of Santa’s visit on the night before Christmas.
Highland County residents who celebrated Christmas as youngsters in 1962 may recall NBC newsman Frank McGee reading the poem on “Monitor,” along with the story of the poem’s reluctant author, Clement Moore.
Following is the poem in its entirety, along with McGee’s commentary from a recording available online.
‘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;
“Christmas Eve, New York, 1822. There was a storm earlier that day but a full moon had risen and shone now on the crest of the new fallen snow that lay still white across the city.
“There was snow on Broadway at the little park in front of city hall; a gentle, embracing snow that softened the gothic harshness of old Trinity Church, and lay deep on West 22nd street, muffling the ‘clip-clop’ of the horses’ hooves and the rumbled noise of the carriage wheels.
“And head bowed against the harsh caress of the wind, a certain professor of Greek and Hebrew made his way home.”
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads,
And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap-
“It was a large home, many-chimneyed and pretentious. But the celebrations there that night would be modest. In 1822, Christmas was actually one of the lesser of the years’ holidays. A few simple gifts for the children — some candy and some fruit placed conspicuously in a bowl, and a dinner rather more substantial than on other days, but that was about all. Christmas had not yet been discovered by Mr. Dickens. Jacob Marley was not dead, and old Ebeneezer Scrooge had yet to keep his disturbing rendezvous with the ghost of Christmas past.
“Fruit in a bowl, some sugar plums and a roasted goose, and that was about all.”
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;
“There was one thing more. It was an old legend from the last century, a folk thing of undetermined origin, and by 1822, almost forgotten. It was the story of St. Nicholas, who used to visit each house and leave a gift or two for good children. The old professor adjusted his scarf and smiled to himself about that old story.”
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
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 call’d them by name:
Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer, and Vixen,
On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blixem;
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!
“He scurried up the steps of this house, unwound the long scarf, called out that he was home and walked swiftly into his study.
“The old professor’s name was Clement Clark Moore, a doctor of philosophy and a student of oriental literature. He was the author of a lexicon of the Hebrew language, but at that moment he had other matters in mind.”
As dry leaves 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.
“He could even remember how he was dressed. It then occurred to him his own children had never heard the story. He picked up some paper, found some ink and a quill, and he started to write.
“He was a scholar and the son of the illustrious Bishop Benjamin Moore, one-time pastor of Trinity Church. Professor Moore was not given to writing trivial things, but he wrote the words quickly and secretly, since in his mind, a scholar shouldn’t concern himself with such a petty subject. His associates wouldn’t have approved.
“Still, it was a charming old story and he continued to write.”
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 dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d 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 laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;
“He was almost through now, smiling to himself as the quill scratched on. The lamplight gave off a glow that shown on his library of ponderous books, almost as if the shadows watched and whispered.”
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 fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk,
“The good professor’s children were delighted with his poem. And as time passed the little verse might have been forgotten completely had it not been for a relative who was visiting for the holiday. Sara Harriet Butler jotted the poem down in her diary before she left and the next year, her father sent it to a newspaper in Troy, New York. It was printed and hundreds of readers clipped it out and filed it away. Other newspapers picked it up and before many more years passed, it had worked its way into the folk history of the land.”
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle.
“At first, Moore denied he had written it, since he thought it would diminish his reputation as the author of the great Hebrew lexicon that only highbrow religious leaders read, if it was read at all. Moore lived long enough to see his verses published everywhere and read by children he would never know, but who would be spellbound by the story of the good St. Nicholas on Christmas Eve.”
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight —
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.