As unlikely as it may seem for a classic children’s poem to have such a scandalous history, it is, in fact, the case for the beloved Christmas verse “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” The poem itself has become a time-honored tradition; it also was the first piece to give us the name of Santa Claus’ reindeer! So what about this famous poem makes it so mysterious? Read on to find out.
The controversy surrounding “Twas the Night Before Christmas” has to do with the piece’s author. When the poem was first published in the New York newspaper, the Troy Sentinel, back in 1823 (on the night before the night before Christmas, December 23), it was published anonymously, and so no one knew exactly who the author was. And the author’s identity remained a mystery for some time afterwards until a poet named Clement Clarke Moore came forward and claimed the piece as his own. With the credit seemingly given where it was due, “Twas the Night Before Christmas” was even published in an anthology alongside Moore’s other works. But there were a few details that cast a bit of doubt over the truth to Moore’s story. For one thing, the poem with its very obvious meter and rhyme scheme was unlike any other poem Moore had written, and for another, there were references made throughout it to Dutch culture, and Moore had no Dutch heritage to speak of.
Who did have Dutch heritage, however, was Henry Livingston, Jr., another poet who came forward to claim authorship of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Not only did his Dutch background show through in details such as the original names of some of the reindeer (Dunder and Blixem, the Dutch words for thunder and lightning, became Donner and Blitzen), but Livingston had an extra bit of proof to his story. His children and family friends recalled hearing Livingston recite “Twas the Night Before Christmas” nearly 15 years before its publication date in the newspaper!
So which version of the story do you believe? We have no definitive proof to support either author’s claim, though the poem is most often attributed to Moore as he was the first to publish it. Another interesting trivia tidbit about the piece? Though it is commonly referred to by its first line, the real title is “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” No matter what title or author you choose to use, celebrate this Christmas by reading a classic poem to all, and to all a goodnight!