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Mystery…and MYSTIQUE of Christmas

Christmas has a mystery all its own with the birth of Jesus. It also has a mystique; customs, legends, stories, traditions and other practices handed down in families and in societies around the world. This very weekend in 1823 marks the first publication of a work poet Clement Clarke Moore composed for the enjoyment of his family. “A Visit From St. Nicholas” is his original title to a work we know better as “T’was the Night Before Christmas.” By some observations, it is a work that almost singularly created the modern concept of Santa Claus. Moore was a 19th century author, poet and classic literature professor at Columbia College, now Columbia University, New York. The legend goes that on a family sleigh ride one afternoon during that Christmas season, inspiration struck. Moore’s image of Santa Claus was shaped by the pudgy Dutch driver of the sleigh, historic accounts of Saint Nicholas and “A History of New York” written by one of his friends, Washington Irving . As well-written as it is, Moore is said to have expressed the work was “beneath my poetic/writing talent.” So, on this weekend in 1823, a friend sent it to a local paper. It hit the Sentinel with NO byline; published anonymously and went the 19th century equivilent of VIRAL. Since then, it’s appeared annually in U.S. culture, parodied and referenced in cartoon strips, comic books, film and literature: Garfield the Cat; the film Die Hard; in Cajun dialect complete with swamp art, for true; from the perspective of a U.S. Marine; from the recording studio in music and spoken word and on radio and television. For 15 years after it became a hit, Moore adamantly denied he’d authored the piece. Imagine what the -mystique- of Christmas might be like had Moore stuck with his intent to never publish it and it remained in the Getty Imagesdrawer of his writing table.

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