“Artists are people who are not at all interested in the facts—only in the truth. You get the facts from outside. The truth you get from inside.” --Ursula K. LeGuin

Monday, December 25, 2023

'Tis Christmas


Last night ‘Twas the night before Christmas and there was much scurrying, for we were celebrating with one daughter and grandson, and tonight we will celebrate with another daughter grandson and son-in-law.

This morning I took a break from the house, grabbed a coffee, and am now in my Wayback office for a friendly visit with my computer and hopefully you. (Maybe with you after Christmas.)

Yesterday, I had the poem’ Twas the Night Before Christmas, same as A Visit from St Nicolas, cycling through my brain. My ten-year-old nephew from the night before sparked my thinking of it, for he didn’t know the poem.

That poem is a moment of history from the man who named the reindeer and described St Nicolas is a right jolly old elf who was “dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot, and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.”

Wouldn’t it be fun, I thought, to send a video of me reciting the poem and drawing little pictures along with it to him and his little sister—you know of houses, mice, children all snug in their beds, and reindeer pulling sleds flying through the sky? But I couldn’t talk and draw that fast, and I’m not sure I could draw anymore anyway.

Ad writers from the Coco Cola Company came along and cleaned up St Nicolas. They changed his name to Santa Claus, made him into a regular-sized person, and dressed him in fur clothing, red and white. They kept Moore’s jolly person with a little round belly that shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly. 

I like the story I heard as a child: Moore was a village doctor. Wanting a special gift for his children, for he was, after all, called away on Christmas Eve, he trusted his horse to take him home, and as he jostled along in his buggy, he wrote a poem for them titled, A Visit from St Nicolas.

Well, he wrote the poem for his children, but according to my checking, he wasn’t a physician but a professor with a buggy driver after whom he patterned the elf. The two reindeer named “Donner and Blitzen” meant “Thunder and Lightning.”

Moore wrote the poem in 1837. One of his children had it published anonymously, for initially, Moore wouldn’t take credit for it because it wasn’t “scholarly.”

Finally, in 1844, when it was published with a group of other poems, he, at the insistence of his children, publicly admitted writing it.

I still remember the racket on the lawn, and the writer who had just settled down for a long winter’s night when out of the lawn he heard such a clatter, he sprang from his bed to see what was the matter.

From his window, he saw the snow’s luster like midday, a miniature sled, and eight tiny reindeer.

He described St Nicolas his cheeks like roses, his nose like a cherry—a right jolly old elf, and he watched as St Nicolas filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk, and laying a finger beside of his nose, and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

 ‘Er, he drove out of sight he called, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night.”

It’s fascinating how stories evolve, and images change. Yet, they sprang from a moment when someone displayed their genius and lived on long after they, the writer, was gone.

“Moore received a Bachelor of Arts from Columbia College as valedictorian of the class of 1798 and earned his Master’s Degree there in 1801.”