Merry Christmas to all! Is this poem by Clement Clarke Moore (who?) the most popular poem in the world? Some people think so. (It’s our homeschool poem-of-the-week, so that’s means something.) Why not make an annual reading of it a tradition in your homeschool, if it isn’t already — you can join millions of others who read it every year all around the world.
A Visit from St. Nicholas
’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through 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 mamma 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 my 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 a lustre of midday to objects below,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As 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 dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler 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 on 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 laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed 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 filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang 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!”
Clement Clarke Moore (1779–1863) was a professor of ancient languages and divinity at the Protestant Episcopal seminary in New York City. (Probably not what you expected, huh?) He wrote “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” for his own children, little expecting that it would become a national and now an international favorite. It was first published anonymously in a local newspaper in Troy, New York, in 1823, and it has since gone on to become a Christmas standard, responsible in many ways for our modern conception of who “Santa Claus” is. 🎅
Readings and performances of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” take place all around the world every December. Here’s a wonderful version from the grand old singer Perry Como:
In Washington, the Librarian of Congress — first James Billington and now Carla Hayden — has given a public reading of the poem in the Library’s Great Hall nearly every year for the last two decades.
Maybe the librarian of your little home academy (that would probably be you) will also be giving an annual reading, this year and for many years to come. 😊
❡ Not a creature was stirring: If a special line or turn of phrase happens to strike you in one of our weekly poems, just copy it onto your homeschool bulletin board for a few days and invite your students to speak it aloud — that’s all it takes to begin a new poetical friendship and learn a few lovely words that will stay with you for life.
❡ Little literary lessons: It’s Christmas Eve and this is just a poem to have fun with today, so there’s really no need to point out that it’s a lovely example of anapestic tetrameter, is there? 😊 And look at that magnificent simile in stanza five: “As leaves that before the wild hurricane … So … the coursers they flew.” It’s so natural and extended you could almost call it a Homeric simile — if you wanted to be technical, that is. 😊
❡ Here, said the year: This post is one of our regular homeschool poems-of-the-week. Print your own River Houses poetry calendar for the whole year at riverhouses.org/calendars and follow along with us as we visit forty-eight of our favorite friends.