The Night Before Nightmares

Clement Clarke Moore’s 1832 poem, “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” is often abbreviated, with a verse or two removed to protect young minds from boredom and corruption, so the release of a new censored version (by a Canadian editor) is not that surprising. In this version, the following lines are deleted:

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;

What is distressing is the trumpeting of censorship. In “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas Edited by Santa Claus for the Benefit of Children of the 21st Century” not only is the cut proudly displayed in the title, but the book includes a note from Santa explaining that he’s kicked the habit – thus drawing attention to what might otherwise be ignored. The same note also reassures young animal lovers that his fur is fake. 

Where should revisions like this stop? Santa is still depicted as overweight, and he’s always a white male. He also trespasses, and the distribution of gifts reflects some underlying pathology. On the other hand, the attentive may note that he’s not necessarily human – “a right jolly old elf” – and it is in fact “a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.”

I don’t think “children of the 21st century” need a new version of this poem. It’s not meant to be taken literally, and children understand that. Too bad so many adults have lost their sense of wonder, and replaced it with  fear.

I believe this to be a full text, though a definitive text is problematic due to some mystery surrounding the origin and authorship:

‘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 down 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 lustre 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 called 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 house-top 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 hand, 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 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 laughed like a bowlful 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!

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