When I awake in the night (often) and sleep eludes me, this column dances through my head. What should I write about this week? As an attorney I worked with once said, “My best legal theories come to me in the shower,” I find column ideas pop up in my groggy non-slumber. (Same attorney used to tell me he didn’t pay me enough to come up with my ideas in the middle of the night!)
This week while watching the parade of non-sequiturs bounce around my brain, the line “visions of sugar plums danced in their heads” appeared. After seeing more chocolate, cookies and candies since the holiday season began, I hardly wanted to see more while trying to go to sleep. I set the Christmas line aside to come back to in the light of day.
Instead, I started a new take on counting sheep. I began with cities, then countries, then girl’s names followed by boy’s names. Beginning with “A,” as fast as I could I came up with Albany, Afghanistan, Abigail, Adam in each category until I got to Zillah, Zambia, Zena, Zachary. I was amazed with how quickly the next letter’s name was populated – until I got to “X”! Maybe that’s a good time to fall asleep, at the “X” and call it good.
The next morning, I asked my husband, who has a “Rainman” brain for lyrics, about the sugar plum line. He began reciting the whole poem that was originally written as “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.” I knew I must find out more.
The poem appeared on Dec. 23, 1823, in the “Sentinel,” the local newspaper of Troy, New York. It was published anonymously. Up until that time, the Santa Claus figure was traditionally depicted as a thinner, less jolly, horse-riding disciplinarian. This poem created a new vision: It gave Santa eight tiny reindeer with names; it described the magical arrival into homes via the chimney; and Santa himself looked more like his ubiquitous presence today – cheerful, chubby with a “bundle of toys he had flung on his back”!
Who wrote this famous poem now commonly known as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas?” Thirteen years after it was published, Clement Clarke Moore, a New York writer and professor of Oriental and Greek Literature, took credit for the piece. However, scholars later debated whether Moore was the author and, instead, argued that another New Yorker, Henry Livingston Jr., was the true author. Livingston’s family many generations later also shared the belief.
The controversy continues to this day and both sides believe they have evidence of their author. Several books and articles have been written, including one by Stephen Nissenbaum, professor of history at University of Minnesota, titled “There Arose Such a Clatter Who Really Wrote ‘The Night before Christmas’? (And Why Does it Matter?).” Being in the Moore camp, he confirmed Moore’s authorship and stated he had good evidence to prove it.
No doubt on this Christmas Eve, many youngsters will be hearing the version “Edited by Santa Claus for the benefit of children of the 21st century,” which removes the reference to Santa Claus smoking a pipe. The poem will end with the original, but often rewritten, last line, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night”!
What a White Christmas we were granted in Mazama with 13 inches of new powdery, glistening snow on Saturday (Dec. 18). Skiers especially were elated with the pristine groomed trails.
Happy Holidays to all!