Monday, December 24, 2012

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

The "Nutshell Library" collection of Christmas stories
written and illustrated by Hilary Knight,
published by Harper & Row in 1963,
is full of Christmas fun--and a little mystery.
Each book is smaller than a playing card,
but Knight's illustrations are worth the effort of turning the tiny pages.

One miniature book is called "A Firefly in a Fir Tree,"
written as a poem, but following "The Twelve Days of Christmas" song,
a song of French origin (
Knight's version is charming, 
with the first gift a firefly to light the loved one's Christmas tree.
The gifts include silver pins, thistle dusters, nesting wrens,
blue bells, and feather fans, as well as spinning spiders and bees "abuzzing"

Another book covers the ABCs of Christmas for children: from Angels to Lanterns,
Quilled notes to Reindeer, to name just a few.
Another book "A Christmas Stocking Story" recounts the bemusement
 of a number of different-sized animals 
who encounter a Christmas stocking, but don't know what it's for.

image courtesy of printing

But the most well-known in the collection 
is the little book titled "The Night Before Christmas,"
also known by the title "A Visit from St. Nicholas,"
credited to Clement C. Moore, with pictures by Hilary Knight.

And this is where the mystery begins.
Hilary Knight definitely illustrated it, but who really wrote the poem
that has been read to excited children every Christmas Eve
since it was first published December 23, 1823?

I read a fascinating article by Joe McKeever
pointedly titled "The Christmas Fraud" at

McKeever asserts that forensic linguist Don Foster, 
who correctly identified
Ted Kazynsky as the Uni-bomber 
and Joe Klein as the author of Primary Colors,
discovered that the real author of The Night Before Christmas
was a Dutch writer named Henry Livingston, Jr.
One bit of evidence for this: in the original version,
two of the reindeer are named Dunder and Blixem, 
Dutch words meaning thunder and lightening.

It has been said that Moore took credit for the poem
and changed the names to Donder and Blitzen 
when he later published the poem as his own in a collection.
A cited article in wikipedia also discusses the evidence for Livingston's authorship:

Regardless of who the author was, the poem epitomizes
the joy and magic of Christmas felt by many children (and adults)
when they hear these words:
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!

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