I was only five years old when I learned there was no Santa. I remember it clearly. I actually wasn’t even five yet…just a few weeks shy. It was Christmas morning 1964. The little neighbor girl who was friends with my seven year-old sister came over to see our gifts. My sister was showing her this cool play kitchen Santa had brought when Jodi said to my sister “you know Santa is really just your Mom and Dad.” Those were her exact words. I remember it 55 years later like it was yesterday.
Well Jodi was the youngest child of a large family, where apparently, her older brothers and sisters had not managed to keep the big secret from her.
I’m not sure either my sister or Jodi even realized I was standing right there.
I remember my sister’s reaction – she cried and was very upset. And I remember my reaction. I thought to myself “Well, that makes perfect sense.” And I never doubted it or worried about it from there on, although I didn’t let my parents or siblings know I possessed this knowledge.
That same Christmas was the year I received my first book. We had lots of books in the house, but I had never been given a book that was all mine. Just for me. That book was a beautiful copy of “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clark Moore. It’s ironic that I received this book the same morning that I learned there was no Santa Claus.
I adored that book. I cherished it. It had a rich, beautiful red cover and beautiful illustrations that I looked at for hours and hours and in later years read cover to cover. I didn’t let my siblings touch it and it luckily got packed away and preserved in the decades that followed.
When I was a young Mom I once again fell in love with the book as I read it each year to first my first-born son, and later both my boys. I easily could recite the poem without the book and often did. One Christmas my two children and I put on a play of the poem for the family, complete with costumes and scenery.
It was in these years when my children were very tiny that I picked up an interesting book at the library (yes this was way before Google) all about the history of our Christmas traditions. I learned so many fascinating things from that book, including the amazing history of the poem “The Night Before Christmas”. It wasn’t until then, that I understood that many of the holiday traditions I took for granted, including Santa Claus himself, were fairly new developments in recent generations and the poem “The Night Before Christmas” was largely responsible for the image of St. Nicholas we know today.
Until Moore wrote the poem in 1823 as a gift for his children, St. Nicholas had a Christmas Day arrival not Christmas Eve. Moore’s image of the “jolly elf” arriving under darkness on Christmas Eve is one we still accept today, elaborated and secured for all time by the Coca-Cola image of Santa in the early 20th Century.
Moore’s poem also brought into cultural acceptance the idea of Santa’s reindeer as he named them individually for the first time. And of course the popularity of the later poem “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer” added additional holiday fun to that aspect of our Christmas cultural icon.
Once I began to learn and understand the history of Santa Claus in the United States and around the world I became infatuated with the story and the history. I started purchasing new and antique copies of “The Night Before Christmas” each year and through out the year. As my love for the story grew as an adult, I also began to receive antique copies of the book from friends and family.
I currently own more than 30 copies of the book. My oldest of the collection is a 1905 edition. I have some fun versions including two Hawaiian versions, a Mickey Mouse version, Holly Hobby and two illustrated by Grandma Moses.
I have flocked version, a pop-up book version, and one of the most fun versions is a revolving picture book.
But my favorite will always be the original one I received that Christmas in 1964, published in
The same day I received this amazing storybook of Santa Claus was the same day I learned there is no Santa Claus. And perhaps my love and adoration for this poem all these years was my way of accepting that truth, while still believing in the Christmas spirit.
So let’s believe together;
A Visit from St. Nicholas
AKA The Night Before Christmas
By Clement Clark Moore
“Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ 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 Mama in her kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains 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 luster 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 call’d 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 housetop 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 dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d 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 laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d 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 fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung 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.
From Kenya with love – Merry Christmas to you all!