In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore was a professor of Greek and Hebrew Literature at General Theological Seminary. He had finished first in his class at Columbia and was considered to be an austere man.
The Moore family was hosting a Christmas Eve party and Clement wanted to give his six children a memorable gift. He decided to write a short poem titled “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” When he read the poem at the party, several people said it should be published. Professor Moore said he did not want it to be published because he was afraid the whimsical poem would damage his professional reputation. One of the people who had heard the poem decided to send it to The Troy Sentinel to be published anonymously for the 1823 Christmas season.
Years later in 1844, Moore admitted writing it after seeing other people taking credit for writing it.
According to Paul Hond in the Nov. 19, 2021, issue of Columbia Magazine, Sinterklass was celebrated in the Dutch communities in 1823. The Dutch children put out their shoes on the night of December 5. In the morning they would find candy in their shoes. If they were naughty, they received coal. Hond stated that after the reformation in Europe, many people viewed Christmas celebrations as taking away from the solemnity of Christ’s birthday.
Moore’s poem is credited as starting the tradition of Santa Claus in the United States.
Moore may have received his inspiration for the poem from a Dutch friend.
Then there’s the influence of Washington Irving. Irving had published a parody about Christmas in 1809. In Irving’s parody, St. Nicholas descends in a flying wagon, and he rubs his nose before he ascends back into the skies.
Moore introduces reindeers to pull Santa’s sleigh. His description of the jolly fat man has been adopted as what the true Santa Claus should look like. Two of his reindeer are named Donder and Blitzen, which sound like the German words for thunder and lightning. Moore’s poem appealed to most United States citizens in 1823.
“A Visit from St. Nicholas” has become known as “The Night before Christmas.” And reading this poem has become a tradition for many families during the holiday season.
I wish a happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.