Monday, December 24, 2007

A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore

A Visit from St. Nicholas

'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 down 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 peddler 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."
--Clement Clarke Moore

Merry Christmas Eve everybody! I couldn't possibly post this poem any other day. It's a very famous poem, and really needs no introduction. I will say that it suffers occasionally when the author leaves narration and turns to poetic descriptions. Luckily they only last a line or two, but I always felt like "The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow / Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below," and "As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, / When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky," were out of place in this poem, and I usually forget them when I try to recite it from memory.

In describing our Christmas traditions, I left off yesterday with everybody gathered at the top of the stairs wearing elf hats and waiting for permission to come down. Mom and Dad finally put on some Christmas music and give the word, and everybody rushes to the living room, scooping up their full stocking as they go. The stockings, much too heavy to hang up anymore, have been laid out on the stairs, looking tantalizing to the little ones waiting above.

In the living room, each person stakes out a bit of couch or their own corner for opening presents in. We empty the stockings of their traditional gifts -- lots of chocolate candies like peanut butter cups, peppermint patties and kisses, bags of pistachios and pine nuts and other nuts, some Hanukkah gelt, an apple and finally a tangerine (or orange if Mom knows you like them better) in the toe. Other things in the stocking might include jewelry, little wind up toys, lip gloss, or other small things Mom thinks you might like.

After the stockings are empty, the other presents get opened. This isn't a free for all of torn paper flying everywhere. We take turns (though not strictly in order) opening one present at a time. Everybody admires whatever it is, and whoever got it might spend five or ten minutes fiddling with it before even thinking about opening something else. The younger siblings generally passed out the presents from under the tree, having shorter attention spans. One of the things I liked, was the way Mom (or whoever the present was from) would write a two or three word cryptic explanation on the tag -- like "For Karen and her doll" or "For Doug, who is curious about such things."

As the presents are unwrapped, all the paper and ribbons get thrown behind the couch, and the presents themselves are stacked up in the space staked out earlier. If the present is wearable, it often gets put on right away. Eventually, the box for one thing will be used to store a bunch of smaller things. We hang out in the living room for several hours, opening presents and fiddling with the stuff we've gotten. If we get hungry, there are more cinnamon rolls, Christmas cookies, and candy, nuts and fruit from the stockings. At some point, Mom also puts out the spiral cut ham, veggie tray, and cheese and crackers to snack on. We occasionally had a sit-down supper on Christmas, but breakfast and lunch were just constant snacking.

When it comes time to clean up, everybody takes their piles up to their bedrooms (though stuff doesn't stay there forever, since we want to play with a lot of it again), and Mom starts going through the wrapping paper. The torn stuff goes into garbage bags, but pieces big enough to reuse, gift bags, boxes, ribbons and bows, and certain gift tags get put aside to make their appearance again next year. Along with being thrifty, this ritual has other uses. First, it's kind of fun to see the same bow or box year after year, and then Mom generally found some present or other that had fallen in with the paper and would have been thrown away if she hadn't been looking at each piece. We also find a present or two way back behind the tree, or somebody remembers where they hid something months ago, so gift giving lasts even this late.

The afternoon and evening are spent watching one or more of the videos people got as gifts, putting together the more complicated toys or Lego sets (we got Legos EVERY year at Christmas and birthdays), reading books, trying to install the video games, etc. There are "Merry Christmas and thank you!" phone calls to and from Grandparents, Aunt Shirley (who when we were young sent us McDonalds gift certificates), and various other relatives. I remember going out to visit people a few times growing up, but usually we just stayed home and revelled in the Christmas spirit.

I hope that whatever traditions you celebrate with this year, you'll feel the love and security that I felt as a child at Christmas time!

Merry Christmas everyone!


  1. Merry Christmas!

    We spontaneously recited this last night while putting Kate to bed. Or tried to, anyway. I ashamed to say that we completely skipped the bowl full of jelly line. Doh!

  2. Thanks for writing such a thorough description of our Christmas traditions Karen! Now when I write my own history, I can just copy and paste yours and add a few personal memories. Voila! It's been fun to read these with Sam too to talk about Christmas as a kid.

  3. I sure appreciate how pleasant you make our lives look in retrospect. The normal chaos seems to have been muted somewhat, like there was an overall plan. Great details that bring back such a flood of memories. We all appreciate your taking the time to write it all down so well.

  4. Hi Karen,

    One year we made up our own version of this poem and called it "A Visit From the Dragon Down the Street." We read it every year for several years after that. My favorite line was "and the wart on his chin was as big as they grow."

    Ask Peter if he remembers any of it. I remember we had great fun with it. I'm sure we still have the book we wrote it in, so we'll have to share it with you some time when you are here.