Twas The Night Before Christmas

December 16, 2021

“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas …”

Today, in 1823, a newspaper in New York published what some now call the most well-known poem ever written by an American.
But who REALLY wrote it?
"We know not to whom we are indebted for the following description of that unwearied patron of children—that homely, but delightful personification of parental kindness—Sante Claus … but, from whomsoever it may have come, we give thanks for it."

Troy Sentinel, the weekly newspaper that published “ACCOUNT OF A VISIT FROM ST. NICHOLAS” on Dec. 23, 1823. At the time, the author remained a mystery – and, in some ways, still is.

Clement Moore

  • Born into a prominent family in New York.
  • Reportedly penned the poem on Christmas Eve in 1822, while traveling home to see his 6 children.
  • Clue: Moore was said to have a Dutch sleigh driver the night he composed the poem.
  • Some suggest that Moore, a professor and scholar, initially stayed anonymous because he was embarrassed by the playful poem.
  • Published the poem under his own name in 1844 – 20 years after it first appeared in print.

Henry Livingston, Jr.

  • Prominent Dutch farmer in upstate New York; served in the Revolutionary War.
  • His children and others said they heard him recite the poem YEARS before it was published.
  • Clue: Original reindeer names “Dunder & Blixem” translate to “Thunder” & “Lightning” in Dutch. Later edits changed them to German “Donder & Blitzen.”
  • Never took credit for the poem; died 5 years after the poem was first published.

Why It Matters

"Though legend has it that Santa Claus hails from the North Pole, he was actually a New Yorker …"

New-York Historical Society Museum & Library on the poem. The poem’s author solidified the image of Santa and his reindeer for the newly-formed United States (and beyond), and has continued to do so for nearly the last 200 years.

How did the paper get the poem? Another mystery. The paper wrote on that day: “We hope our little patrons, both lads and lasses, will accept it as proof of our unfeigned good will toward them—as a token of our warmest wish that they may have many a merry Christmas …”

VIDEO: A Christmas Mystery: Jenna explains the legend

by Jenna Lee,