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A Christmas cap for a “long winter’s nap.”

The poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, more commonly known as Twas the Night Before Christmas, has been memorized by children for more than a century and described as the best-known verse ever written by an American. It was first published anonymously in the Troy, New York Sentinel on December 23, 1823 and subsequently attributed to Clement Clarke Moore in 1837. It is believed Moore wrote the poem for his children. However, he was considered a rather erudite professor and had initially not wanted to be associated with the unscholarly verse. Finally, at the insistence of his children he included it in his own book of poems in 1844.

Moore was a friend of Washington Irving and both were members of the same literary society. It appears Moore took inspiration from Dutch traditions described in Irving’s A History of New York published in 1809, when he defined the features of “the jolly old elf”, which are still associated with Santa Claus today.

Four original hand-written copies of the poem are known to exist, three of which are in museums. One is in the New York Historical Society Library. A fourth copy, written and signed by Clement Clarke Moore, was given as a gift to a friend in 1860, and sold by a private collector in 2006 for $280,000.

There has long been controversy surrounding the authorship of the poem. Certain experts have expressed their believe that Major Henry Livingston, Jr. wrote it. The most recent challenge came from a professor of English at the University of Auckland, New Zealand when he wrote a book titled Who Wrote “The Night Before Christmas”?

Well, whoever wrote this endearing piece of poetry almost 200 years ago certainly provided us with what has inspired countless parodies, adaptations and innumerable other references in our pop culture. They can also perhaps be given credit for an equally countless number of tender moments when teary-eyed parents have watched their young children recite the poem in Christmas programs at local schools and churches. Or when parents read it as a bedtime story on Christmas Eve filling their children’s heads with much more than visions of sugarplums.

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