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Santa [1848] (Public Domain Image)

A Visit From St. Nicholas

by Clement C. Moore


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This is a collection of 19th century editions of the Christmas classic poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas. These were scanned from a facsimile edition printed in 1966 by Giniger Books. There are three editions presented here: a holograph manuscript written by Clement C. Moore in 1862, the first newspaper publication in the Troy, NY Sentinel of Dec 23, 1823, and the first separate publication in 1848 as a children's book. All three correspond line-for-line, except for minor punctuation and spelling differences. The three texts are given in parallel in the final file of this etext. A catalog published by George H. M. Lawrence in 1964 describes 148 editions of this poem published during the 19th and 20th centuries, and it remains a Christmas favorite in the 21st.

Clement Clarke Moore, born July 15th, 1779, died July 10th, 1863, was born into a wealthy New York family, living in Chelsea and Newport. He graduated first in class at Columbia College in 1798, and lived a life of leisure as a scholar and writer. He donated land near Chelsea Square for the General Theological Seminary, and served as Professor of Oriental and Greek Literature there from 1823 to 1850.

He wrote, among other things, a Hebrew lexicon, translations from the Greek, French and Italian, and reams of neo-classical poetry. However, of his many works, only this 56 line poem is still remembered. He wrote it one December afternoon for the entertainment of his six children, and it continues to be enjoyed by children to this day. Moore originally published the Visit anonymously because he didn't want his name associated with the distinctly low-brow poem, finally acknowledging authorship in 1837. There is still some doubt as to whether Moore wrote the poem. Henry Livingston Jr., a relative of Moore, has also been proposed as a possible author.

This poem is the source of much of the modern mythology of Santa Claus. The original St. Nicholas was a third century bishop of Myra in Lycia (today, Anatolia in Southern Turkey). Before this poem, American Christmas traditions were based on the European. Some celebrated gift-giving on December 5th, the eve of St. Nicholas' feast day, and most images of St. Nicholas were, naturally, that of a bishop. Moore invented the sleigh and eight tiny (named) reindeer, and reimagined St. Nick as a jolly old man who brings gifts by coming down the chimney. He unified the diverse Christmas stories into one narrative, set on Christmas Eve.

Thomas H. Nast, who also invented the Elephant/Donkey symbols of the two major American political parties, created the first modern Santa Claus in 1881, based on Moore's poem. However, it took nearly a century until the canonical Santa Claus in a red and white trimmed suit appeared in a Coca-Cola ad in 1931. Modern illustrations (for instance, Arthur Rackham's 1931 St. Nick) show the reindeer as full-sized, rather than 'tiny:' in the 1848 Boyd illustrations they look about the size of dogs. The ninth reindeer, Rudolph, was invented by a Montgomery Ward copywriter, Robert L. May, of Evanston Illinois, in 1939.

--J.B. Hare, Dec. 9, 2007

First Newspaper Publication
First Book Publication