In 1822, a New York professor and theologian named Clement Clarke Moore penned a holiday poem called “A Visit from St. Nicholas” that he wrote to read to his children on Christmas Eve. The following year, the poem was published anonymously in various newspapers, school readers and the like, and it quickly gained widespread attention across the country. In 1837, the poem was included in an anthology of works by New York poets called The New-York Book of Poetry, though still attributed to “Anonymous.” It wasn’t until Moore included the piece in his 1844 collection, Poems, that authorship was officially attributed to him.
Over the course of more than 150 years, reading “A Visit From St. Nicholas” during the holidays became one of our most beloved Christmas traditions. You could hear “Twas the night before Christmas” and see the poem’s depictions of Santa in everything from print ads and commercials to Christmas specials and greeting cards, making Clement C. Moore and his poem a holiday fixture.
There was only one problem. Clement C. Moore didn’t write “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”
Thanks in large part to Vassar professor Don Foster, who is also an expert in literary forensics, experts now agree the original poem, “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” was actually written by Major Henry Livingston Jr., a member of a leading colonial New York family who also fought in the Revolutionary War.
It took 156 years to attribute authorship to the man who defined for all of us what Santa looks like, the number of reindeer he had and their names, but ultimately the truth was revealed.
And so, with a wink and a nod to Major Henry Livingston Jr., we offer our thoughts on how he might have altered his beloved poem had he lived with us through this year of COVID-19 and all the fun that came with it.