“A Visit from St. Nicholas” is one of the most read poems in history. Let’s take a look at a synopsis of this Christmas poem and an analysis of the figurative speech used, and then discuss the differences between various editions of the poem.
Synopsis of “A Vist from St. Nicholas”
This poem, commonly known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas” is attributed to Clement Clarke Moore under the title “A Visit from St. Nicholas”. However, there is some speculation that the poem was actually written by Henry Livingston, Jr. and is an ongoing controversy on who was the real author. The poem was written in 1822 and is now a holiday favorite.
This writing tells the now very well-known and followed tradition of Christmas in America with Santa arriving, leaving presents, and then leaving quickly with his eight reindeer (Rudolph wasn’t brought into common custom until the song “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” almost a hundred years later).
The story happens as follows:
1st Stanza shows children placing stockings near the fireplace.
2nd shows the children in their beds and ready to sleep.
3rd shows the speaker jumping out of bed and opening his curtains to see what was happening outside.
4th shows a sleigh and eight reindeer outside.
5th shows St. Nick for the first time.
6th has Santa shouting out the reindeer in his famous call of their names.
7th displays the sleigh flies to the top of the roof.
8th Santa goes down the chimney.
9th Santa is shown wearing his famous suit (fur at the time of writing) and with a sack of toys.
10th describes his facial features.
11th describes his body.
12th continues describing his body and calls him an “old elf”.
13th shows him do his work without speaking a single word.
14th has him finally say “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
Analysis of “A Visit from St. Nicholas”
Written in AABB, the poem uses anapest rhythm throughout with some variation to create motion and reset the rhythm. The lines each have between 11 and 13 syllables depending on how the author breaks his four-meter rhythm.
Overall, there isn’t too much to analyze as this poem is written in plain English. There isn’t any hidden meanings or caricatures. It describes a typical young boy in the 1800s waiting for Christmas morning when he suddenly hears Santa outside, jumps up out of bed, sees Santa, and then runs downstairs and watches him do his business before St. Nick goes back up the chimney and flies off.
Let’s keep in mind the many differences between the now recent version versus the original published one. This stanza, in particular, is quite different:
“Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer, and Vixen,
“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blixem;
“To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As you can see, the names of the reindeer are quite different as the now popular version. Even the way Santa calls the reindeer is different compared to the now common, “On, Comet!” way. Expurgation has also taken place among many literary works, including “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, changing the word “breast in stanza four to “crest”.
“Dunder” and “Blixem” are German words which means “Thunder” and “Lightening” now commonly replaced with “Donner” and “Blitzen”.
Some versions of this poem take out the exclamation points and replace them with commas.
Stanza six changes “stoop” to “porch”.
Stanza thirteen changes “fingers” to “finger”.
Another common change is in the last line. Changing “Happy Christmas” and “good night” to “Merry Christmas” and “goodnight”.
The last stanza also includes the change “ere” to “as”.
The original printing also did not include stanza breaks.
Read An Original Version of “A Visit from St. Nicholas”
This version of the famous writing is not from any specific publication. It was edited to give a more modern feel and yet still maintain the original rhythm and pace.
“A Visit from St. Nicholas”
by Clement Clarke Moore
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 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 crest of the new-fallen snow
Gave the luster 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! Dunder and Blixem!
To the top of the stoop! 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 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 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 fingers aside on 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, as he drove out of sight,
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight!”
Reader’s Reaction to “A Visit from St. Nicholas”
“A Visit from St. Nicholas” helped redefine Christmas in the United States. This poem helped define St. Nicholas as having Reindeer and a Sleigh. Moore originally planned this poem to be anonymous when it was first published on December 23, 1823. He finally claimed ownership of the poem in 1844 in his book of poetry but was suspected of being the author as early as 1837.
Like many Americans, this is my favorite Christmas poem. It has everything we love about this great holiday: snow, chimneys, reindeer, and dear ol’ Santa. There are so many things to love about this poem, but the most for me to love is not even in the poem. It is the tradition surrounding it. The Christmas Eve reading.