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Whose Jolly Old Elf Is That, Anyway? Literary Sleuth Casts Doubt on the Authorship of an Iconic Christmas Poem

Clement Clarke Moore, a wealthy Manhattan biblical scholar, went down in history as the man who in 1823 created the American image of Santa Claus as author of the "Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas." Better known as "The Night Before Christmas," it became one of the most widely read poems in the world.

The poem was first published anonymously on December 23, 1823, and was reprinted frequently thereafter with no name attached. Moore later acknowledged authorship and the poem was included in an 1844 anthology of his works at the insistence of his children, for whom he wrote it.

A Visit from St. Nicholas is largely responsible for the conception of Santa Claus from the mid-nineteenth century to today, including his physical appearance, the night of his visit, his mode of transportation, the number and names of his reindeer, and the tradition that he brings toys to children. Prior to the poem, American ideas about St. Nicholas and other Christmastide visitors varied considerably. The poem has influenced ideas about St. Nicholas and Santa Claus in the United States and beyond to the rest of the world.

Moore's connection with the poem has been questioned by Professor Donald Foster, an expert on textual content analysis, who used external and internal evidence to argue that Moore could not have been the author. Major Henry Livingston, Jr., a New Yorker with Dutch and Scottish roots, is considered the chief candidate for authorship, if Moore did not write it. Livingston was distantly related to Moore's wife.

"A Visit from St. Nicholas" has inspired many parodies, adaptations and references in popular culture.

From the Library's Catalog

Websites of interest:

James Thurber's “A Visit from Saint Nicholas IN THE ERNEST HEMINGWAY MANNER,”

The Night Before Christmas Silent Movie from 1905

Merry Christmas, My Friend

Additional parodies


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