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Tea Party Winners: Carla Gade's winner is Becky Dempsey, Andrea Boeshaar's winner Caryl Kane, Gina Welborn's winner Jasmine A., Carrie Fancett Pagels' winners book copy -- Lynda Edwards, teacup and saucer -- Wendy Shoults

Friday, December 14, 2012

“The Night Before Christmas” The Federal Era Classic of Clement Clarke Moore


by Lisa Norato
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
            On December 23, 1823, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” as it was originally titled, was published for the first time in a New York newspaper called the Troy Sentinel. How it got there and endured to become a holiday classic was not through the intent of its author, Professor Clement Clarke Moore. Professor Clark wrote the verses as a treat for his own children in 1822, of which there would eventually total nine. But the poem proved such a delight to family and friends that it was copied and shared from one to the other, until a friend sent it to the Sentinel, where it so impressed the editor it was published anonymously. At once, the poem Clarke wrote for his family’s own personal enjoyment became public property.

Clement Clarke Moore
            An only child, born during the American Revolution of old New York wealth, Clement Clarke Moore inherited so much land he never had to take a job. This inheritance also included his mother’s Manhattan estate, Chelsea. As quick reference of just how wealthy he was for his day, the Chelsea estate alone was said to be worth half a million dollars. Professor Clarke was a Hebrew scholar who was also fluent in French, Latin, Italian and Greek. He played the organ and violin, and like many well-educated men of his era wrote poetry published in literary magazines. He was an active and influential figure in the Episcopalian church, his own father having been a bishop of the diocese of New York.

            In Colonial times, the New England Christmas holiday was quite subdued, usually consisting of no more than the gathering of family for a meal. It was tradition for those of means to bestow charity upon their employees and servants and the poor, but monetary gifts often lead to drunken revelry in the streets, which forced good, peace-loving citizens indoors for the day.

            Christmas observances grew more popular with the nineteenth century, and Moore’s verses helped shift the focus of gift-giving to children with the introduction of Santa Claus.


Santa

A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look'd like a peddler just opening his pack:

Credit for this image of Santa does not go to Clement Clarke Moore alone. Professor Moore once belonged to a set of upper crust gentlemen of British descent who referred to themselves as the Knickerbockers. Author Washington Irving was an integral member, and it was Mr. Irving who, in his own writings, came up with the idea of St. Nicholas’s wagon, his practice of laying his finger on the side of his nose and his pipe.


The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath. 

“A Visit from St. Nicholas” appeared just as the focus of the holiday was changing from a day of adult partying to one centered around domesticity and children. Families began to decorate with greenery and pine boughs and in some households even a tree, thus evolving into the festive celebration we all know and love today!

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight —
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.


Lisa Norato is the author of Prize of My Heart, an inspirational seafaring historical from Bethany House. A life-long New Englander, Lisa lives in a historic village with homes and churches dating as far back as the eighteenth century.

9 comments:

  1. Thank you for the information. I hadn't realized the author was so well-heeled. I did, however, know that he was a part of the Knickerbockers.

    It's fascinating to know that the shared ideas between these men became such an integral part of the one writing.

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    1. Good morning, Judith, and happy holidays! The Knickerbockers do sound like an interesting group. Hmm, maybe I should do I post about them someday...

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  2. Fascinating article, Lisa. Thanks for sharing. I'd like to know more about the Knickerbockers, too. I imagine all three of Clement Clarke Moore's names were family names and it makes me curious about those ancestors, too.

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    1. Thank you, Carrie! I agree. As I researched, I began to get very curious about Clement Clarke Moore's background and his wealthy NY family. He seemed a very interesting character!

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  3. Thank you, Lisa. It's great fun to learn more of the origins of our Christmas traditions.

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  4. Very fascinating, Lisa, I never knew any of this. Have a very Merry Christmas!

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    1. Thank you, Debbie, and a very Merry Christmas to you! Blessings!

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  5. What an enjoyable post, Lisa. Thanks so much. Knickerbockers, I wonder about the origin of the name.

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