Originally published in 1823, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” was becoming hugely popular when the New York Post reprinted it in December 1828. That The New-England Galaxy and United States Advertiser re-reprinted the poem is no surprise: editors desperate to fill pages with text used whatever they could find. That the editor of the Galaxy thought that the poem originated in the Post is also no surprise: Clement Moore wouldn’t be identified as the author until “Visit” was printed in The New-York Book of Poetry in 1837.

That the Galaxy reprinted the poem so badly … well, it’s probably no surprise, either: proofreading of a weekly newspaper was … eccentric. When “Visit” appeared in the Post, it was retitled, accidentally abridged, and rewritten; when it appeared in the Galaxy, it was retitled, accidentally abridged, and rewritten some more: the children are “posted” in their beds (the Post has them “nested”), one reindeer is named “Danter” instead of “Dasher.” Some of the revisions seem to indicate that the typesetter was listening to someone reading the poem aloud: the narrator flies to the window “To open the shutters, and throw up the sash” in place of the original “Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.”

The introduction reminds us that hanging stockings and waiting for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve was in 1829 still a regional custom. Moore’s poem helped to change all that: by 1858, even Southern children would hang stockings and hope for the best.

“Christmas Times” (from The New-England Galaxy and United States Advertiser, 9 Jan 1829; p. 3)

The following lines are copied from the New York Evening Post. They appear to be original in that paper; at least nothing appears to the contrary. They would do credit to any paper. They have a custom in New York, derived from their Dutch ancestors, of hanging a stocking by the chimney, on Christmas eve, in readiness for the visit of the patron Saint of ‘New Amsterdam,’ St. Nicholas, (called for the sake of brevity Santa Claus) who takes this occasion to reward the young folks for their good doings, by such deposits in the stocking, as are most likely to be acceptable to them.

Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas, or Santa Claus.

’Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ 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 posted 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 of [sic] 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,

To open the shutters, and throw 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 rein-deer,

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 call’d them by name:

‘Now Danter! now, Dancer! now, Prancer! now, Vixen.

On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blixen;

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!’

As dry leaves 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:

And 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 was flung on his back,

And he look’d like a pedlar 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 bowl full of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laugh’d 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 fill’d all his 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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