Before 1823, there were various St. Nicholas images at the center of Christmas activities. Often it was difficult for people to feel very warm and fuzzy about the personages that dominated the holiday season in Europe, with their long robes, mitres and fierce looks.
But that all changed when Clement Clarke Moore’s poem, “Account of a Visit From St. Nicholas,” was published anonymously in the Troy (N.Y.) Sentinel. Most of us now know the verse as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” It was that offering from a father trying to do something special for his children that gave us the Santa Claus we now enjoy and summon for help this time of year.
Bear in mind, this was long before Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Just think of all those years that Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen and their four compatriots somehow managed to navigate their way to all those rooftops on Christmas Eve without Rudolph’s assistance.
Even youngsters who did not grow up with St. Nick and the night before Christmas poetry have come to enjoy it and let it set the stage for magical wishes. Time was when grade school teachers required their students to memorize the classic, something that produced grumbling then, followed by pride of achievement when the job was done and they could recite passages to their children later on.
Until 1823, we had no Santa Claus to enjoy. Then came that trip to the rooftop with the sleigh and “eight tiny reindeer” and the visit via the chimney and the departing greeting about a happy Christmas and jolly good night. People were hooked, and have never stopped being that way, regardless of their age.
Now, classicists and poetry scholars tend to downgrade the work of Clement Moore, just as they often disparage the “midnight ride of Paul Revere.” But most of us don’t share such elitism.
Each year we again recall the joy that “An Account of a Visit From St. Nicholas” injected, and continues to inject into our lives. What a wonderful and imaginative gift Moore gave to us all.