Who Really Wrote “The Night Before Christmas”?

”'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…” Thus begins probably the most famous Christmas poem, A Visit from St Nicholas, also known as The Night Before Christmas or ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas

It’s common knowledge that it was composed by American professor of Oriental and Greek literature Clement Clarke Moore, in the early 1820s However, over the last 40 years, a second hypothesis has arisen, creating a mystery around the poem and the author himself The poem perfectly captures the magic of Christmas, even today Children are enchanted by the colourful imagery of sugar plums, flying reindeer and the joyful Santa Claus who whooshes down chimneys In fact, the poem is largely responsible for defining the image of Santa today

Before the poem gained wide popularity, the general perception of Santa Claus and other Christmas rituals varied considerably It also appears pretty clear the poem had a massive impact on Christmas gift-giving and other Christmastide traditions The poem narrates the events of a Christmas Eve night A man, his wife and their children are asleep in their beds when the father is awoken by some noises outside Looking outside the window, he sees Santa Claus – St

Nicholas – in an air-borne sleigh pulled by eight reindeer After landing his sleigh on the roof, Santa comes down the chimney, carrying a sack of toys with him, then he fills the stockings hanging by the fireplace Before leaving, he shares a conspiratorial moment with the father of the family, then bounds up the chimney and flies away As he whizzes into the sky, Santa wishes a “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night” Is there anything more Christmassy? But as charming, joyful and pure as the poem is, its writer’s authorship has been shrouded in mystery since its very beginning

For one thing, the poem was published anonymously by New York newspaper the Troy Sentinel, in 1823 Editor in chief of the Troy Sentinel Orville Holley introduced the poem, asserting no one in the office knew the identity of the author As he claimed, “We know not to whom we are indebted for the following description of [] Santa Claus [] but from whomsoever it may have come, we give thanks for it There is, to our apprehension, a spirit of cordial goodness in it, a playfulness of fancy and a benevolent alacrity to enter into the feelings and promote the simple pleasures of children

” According to Holley, the manuscript was sent to him anonymously However, his testimony is the only evidence we have that this is true What we know for sure is that the poem appeared in another couple of newspapers in the following years, then disappeared from print until 1837, when New York publisher Bartlett released a book of poetry written by Clement Clarke Moore, which included A Visit From St Nicholas Moore introduced the collection of poems as entirely written by him at different moments in his life, thus confirming his authorship of the poem

Historians and scholars, such as author Samuel White Patterson, believe Moore didn’t send his work to the newspaper because he considered the poem beneath the dignity of his position as a professor of Theological and Ancient Literature But, someone must have sent the poem to the Sentinel Who? The most common theory, as suggested by Patterson, is that it was Harriet Butler, the eldest daughter of Reverend David Butler, a close acquaintance of Clement Clarke Moore Patterson says that Harriet must have heard the poem during one of her family visits to the poet Then she wrote it down and sent it anonymously to the Troy Sentinel

Of course, this theory would make sense if Moore was the real author of the poem But, what if he wasn’t? What if someone else wrote it? English professor Donald Foster, who has used textual content analysis to solve various authorship debates, believes that Moore is not the real author He claims instead that the poem should be attributed to Major Henry Livingston Jr After his military career, Livingston began writing poetry He primarily wrote poetry using the anapestic metrical scheme

This means that each line of the poem has twelve syllables in a rhythm of two unstressed syllables, then a stressed syllable A Visit from St Nicholas is written in this metre but, according to Foster, Livingston wrote the majority of his poems in anapestic meter, while Moore preferred other metres Professor Foster also thinks that some of the phrasing of the poem is characteristic of other poems by Major Livingston However, in Foster’s opinion, the smoking gun lies in Livingston’s Dutch origins

In fact, Foster asserts that the high volume of references to Dutch Christmas traditions and names can only be connected to the fact that Livingston’s mother was Dutch According to Foster, only someone with a thorough knowledge of Dutch culture could create the Santa Claus character, evidently based on the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas And who other than a native Dutch speaker would name two of the reindeer Dunder and Blixem, as they appear in the very first printing? Professor Stephen Nissenbaum argues instead that the poem could have been a social satire of the “Victorianization of Christmas” Meanwhile, historian Seth Kaller claims that Foster only looked at poems that support his thesis In fact, according to Kaller, many of Moore’s unpublished works have a tone, phrasing and metre similar to A Visit From St Nicholas

However, Professor Foster is not alone in thinking Livingston is the real author, particularly in recent years MacDonald P Jackson, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, has spent his entire career analyzing texts to accurately attribute authorship, and he is particularly recognized for his work on Shakespeare’s writings In 2016, he brought his knowledge to the Moore vs Livingston question

Jackson evaluated poem using modern computational stylistics After a range of trusted tests – and the introduction of a new test, the statistical analysis of phonemes – Jackson concluded that Major Livingston is the true author of The Night Before Christmas But what about Professor Moore? If Livingston is the real author, why is Moore still officially acknowledged as the real author? Well, for one thing, since the poem appeared under Moore’s name in 1837, he has been widely credited as its author long before anyone started arguing that someone else might have written the poem Furthermore, even though Moore did not authorize the earliest publication of the poem in the Troy Sentinel, we can explain why and how the poem got there, through Harriet Butler Whereas Major Livingston, on the other hand, had no connection to the newspaper

Additionally, by the time people started giving credit to Moore, Livingston had already been dead for nine years He was not able to challenge Moore’s claim to the poem Livingston’s descendants believe he wrote it But, since Livingston never claimed authorship, and no copy of the poem has ever been found under Livingston’s name, despite more than 40 years of searching, there’s no concrete proof that he is the true creator of A Visit from St Nicholas

And so, after almost two centuries, the debate goes on It endures much like the poem that, perhaps thanks to the mystery surrounding it, still adds a touch of magic to Christmas

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