Historical Holidays: Newport’s Connection to ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ Revealed

Celebrating the 200th Anniversary of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and its ties to Newport, RI.

Did you know that Clement Clarke Moore, the distinguished 19th-century scholar and poet, who left an indelible mark on Christmas folklore with his iconic poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” more commonly known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas” was a part-time Newport resident? He bought 25 Catherine Street in the 1850s and regularly visited Newport with his family until he died in the home on July 10, 1863. His funeral was held at Trinity Church in Newport where he had owned a pew. His body was returned to New York for burial in the cemetery at St. Luke in the Fields. In 1899 his body was reinterred in Trinity Church Cemetery in New York.

He was also one of 26 people who donated money for what would become Touro Park.

The Clement Clarke Moore House – 25 Catherine Street

“”A Visit from St. Nicholas” (Twas the Night Before Christmas)

Published anonymously in 1823, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” has become a cornerstone of holiday traditions, shaping the modern image of Santa Claus and captivating the imaginations of generations. This article explores the life of Clement Clarke Moore and delves into the enchanting verses that have become synonymous with the magic of Christmas.

Born on July 15, 1779, in New York City, Clement Clarke Moore was a man of diverse talents and achievements. He was a scholar, professor, and theologian, known for his contributions to education and literature. Moore served as a professor of Oriental and Greek literature at the General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church in New York, where he played a pivotal role in shaping young minds.

In 1823, the world was introduced to a poem that would redefine the way we perceive Christmas and its iconic figure, Santa Claus. Initially published without Moore’s name, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” first appeared in the Troy Sentinel newspaper in upstate New York. The poem’s vivid imagery, rhythmic cadence, and whimsical narrative quickly captured the public’s imagination.

“Twas the Night Before Christmas” is a narrative poem that vividly describes the arrival of St. Nicholas on Christmas Eve. The portrayal of Santa Claus as a plump, jolly figure with a sleigh, reindeer, and a sack full of toys has become the quintessential representation of the beloved holiday figure. The poem’s influence extends beyond literature, permeating popular culture through countless adaptations, illustrations, and even animated and live-action productions.

Moore’s poem introduced several enduring elements to the Santa Claus mythos, including the names of the reindeer — Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder (later changed to Donner), and Blitzen. The description of St. Nicholas as a “right jolly old elf” and the iconic phrase “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” have become integral parts of the festive season.

A Visit from St. Nicholas

Clement Clarke Moore 1779 –1863

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle,
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”




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