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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The magic of the season

Clement Clarke Moore was a dour, straitlaced, no-nonsense academician who served as a professor of classics at the General Theological Seminary in New York City, focused on writing for “an erudite readership.”  Fortunately for the rest of us, the man had children.

Legend has it that Moore composed A Visit from St. Nicholas for his kids on Christmas Eve of 1822, during a sleigh-ride home from Greenwich Village. He supposedly drew inspiration for the elfin, pot-bellied St. Nick from the roly-poly Dutchman driving his family in the sleigh, although from what we know of Clement Moore, it's more likely that he drew his imagery from literary sources, most notably Washington Irving, whose satire on the transplanted customs of New York's Dutch population contained several references to the legendary Santa Claus (Sinter Klass in Dutch).

Regardless, Moore wrote a poem about St. Nick that arguable has become the best-known verse ever written by an American, publishing “A Visit From St. Nicholas” on this date in 1823. 
While the scholarly Moore was at first hesitant to publicly acknowledge his association with such an “unscholarly” verse, his kids – for whom he had composed the piece in the first place – were proud of the writing of their dad and wanted children everywhere to know who to thank for penning the magical ’Twas The Night Before Christmas. 

Clement Clarke Moore and a friend of his kids’ 

Moore’s poem is largely responsible for Santa Claus as we know him today, including his physical appearance, the night of his visit, his mode of his transportation, the number and names of his reindeer, and the tradition that he brings toys to children.

By the way, before he was moved by the spirit of the season to pen his famous poem, Moore’s most notable work was a two-volume tome titled A Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language.  Christmas miracles indeed. 

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