Clement C. Moore was born in 1779 in New York City and became a distinguished literature and theology professor there. He was an august man who generally did august things, but became immortal doing a December thing.
On December 23, 1823, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas—or, as it was originally known, A Visit from St. Nicholas—was anonymously published in a Troy, New York, newspaper…and just never stopped being reprinted. By 1837, Moore’s authorship was widely known. He’d written the poem for his children. He hadn’t intended on changing Christmas as we know it.
I am quite certain most of us have had some connection with this famous Christmas poem. Every child knows the story of Santa and his reindeer. When Clement Moore wrote that story I am sure he was not aware that he would change the story of Christmas forever.
Of course, the oddity of the poem compared to Santa as we know him is that Moore made Santa and his reindeer tiny and elfin. I suppose that is so he could get down the chimney. But through the years, at least in my lifetime, we have made Santa bigger. Associating jolly with being a bit more rounded and content with Mrs. Santa’s culinary skills. We like our Christmas Santa to be bigger than life, so we added more jolly to our Santa.
What special six degrees of separation do I have with ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas and Clement Moore? Well, fifty years ago I was on a television set sitting in a Santa Sleigh, holding my five month old son on my lap with my young daughters beside me. We were surrounded by all of the young children of the television staff and crew and a full Christmas wonderland television scene.
I was honored to be asked to read Clement Moore’s’Twas The Night Before Christmas’ for the children there and for everyone watching from their homes. It truly was a moment when the magic of that Christmas poem came alive for me. Just seeing the wonderment on all the little children’s faces around me is a gift I’ll never forget. The tale of Christmas came more alive to me during that reading than ever before.
In the 1980’s I moved to New York to an area called Chelsea. In the 1800’s Chelsea was considered the back woods of New York with mansions and acres of land around them. Today Chelsea is a quaint area of townhouses and art galleries.
While walking my dog one day that first week I discovered a beautiful townhouse just a block away from mine with a plaque on it. Curious, I stopped the read it. What did it say? It said it was the home of Clement C Moore. This was the house where he wrote ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas’.
The author was a major landowner in the neighborhood and lived with his family on a huge estate at 23rd Street and 9th Avenue, then considered the backwoods of the city. Moore sold it in 1835. Six years later, it was rebuilt as the Greek Revival townhouse that stands today,
Again, Clement C. Moore and I were destined to cross paths. We still have that home in Chelsea and I am walking past his home most days when I am there. As long as I have children and grandchildren and as long as I have the child within me, Clement Moore and I will have that six degrees of separation connection.
“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.”