Xmas Heroes – Clement Clarke Moore
After a sleigh ride from Greenwich Village in 1822 and struck with the holiday spirit, the staid professor of classics and religious studies at the General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church was inspired to write a bit of entertainment entitled “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” for his kids.
Clement Clarke Moore was a serious academic. He earned his Bachelor of Arts and Master’s Degrees from Columbia University in 1798 and penned the two-volume work entitled A Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language in 1809. This scholarly work and his donation of a portion of his inherited estate secured his position as a professor at the newly created seminary in 1820. He held this position proudly until 1850. From 1840, he also served as a board member for the New York Institution for the Blind.
The poem he wrote for his kids was a personal affair to him. He was advised to share it, but he didn’t want to diminish his standing as a serious professor. In 1823, a family friend submitted the poem to be published anonymously at the Troy Sentinel 150 miles away in Troy, NY. The poem was reprinted annually and eventually included in The New-York Book of Poetry in 1837 where it was officially attributed to Moore. Moore finally relented to accept authorship when he also included it in his 1844 anthology, Poems. A Visit from St. Nicholas was printed in booklet form repeatedly over the years.
Moore was influenced by the Dutch settlers of New York in his writing of the poem. The Dutch Sinter Klaas was actually based more directly on the historical Bishop Nicholas of Myra and typically depicted as a tall, stately figure. Moore collected ideas from Washington Irving’s 1809 Knickerbocker History and an 1821 poem called “The Children’s Friend” as well as the stout Dutch sleigh driver who had delivered him home from his cousin’s house on Christmas Eve of 1822. The poem “The Children’s Friend” had vaguely mentioned Santa’s reindeer, but Moore specified eight and named each of them. The poem had so captured the creative imagination and transformed the character of Santa that it was frequently published in booklets and became the topic of short films once the movie camera was invented by Edison in 1889 in the form of the Strip Kinetograph. Edison directed “The Night Before Christmas” in 1905. Watch it below: