twas the night before christmas

T’was the Night Before Christmas: History, YouTube and Poem

In Christmas Party Ideas by Caleb

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

I don’t know about you, but I love everything about Christmas. From enjoying my mom’s expertly decorated butter cookies to watching The Grinch Stole Christmas for the umpteenth time, this is my favorite time of the year!

In this article we’ve included the poem itself as well as answers to a few questions we know get asked about the poem and author.  The article includes:

  • YouTube Video of a reading out loud of the poem
  • Who wrote ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
  • When was ‘Twas the Night before Christmas’ written?
  • What is the poem’s reading level?
  • What are “Sugar Plums”?
  • The poem itself, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’

(scroll to the bottom of this article for the words to the poem)

My family, like yours, has our timeless traditions when celebrating Christmas. When it comes to food, it wouldn’t be Christmas in my family if someone didn’t bring the lasagna! And, dessert is always rum tartlets and cannolis. To drink? For those old enough, grandma’s favorite – anisette liquor.  

There is so much laughter and love in my family, especially during the holidays. We’re all together in one big house. We’re loud, we’re boisterous and we’re full of Christmas cheer, and a bit of anisette!

And one of the best parts of the holiday is reading ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. No matter how many times I hear it recited, it takes me back to my childhood and the wonderful Christmases I’ve experienced. All of the love I’ve felt for my relatives and family, and all the love they’ve given me in return.

The poem epitomizes the excitement children feel for the holiday. And, each and every time I read it, I remember that excitement. And I see the wonder of the season on the faces of my nieces and nephews when I read them the poem.

Whether you’re listening one of the countless audio versions or your reading an illustrated printed copy, there’s nothing like rediscovering ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.

It never gets old for me and, if it’s your first time reading it or if you’re thinking about giving it to your kids so they can open their hearts to this beautiful ode to the holidays, please keep reading for history of the poem and how it shaped our Christmases of today.’

T'was the night before christmas youtube video - read aloud

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Ok, back to answers to your questions:

Who Wrote ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas?

Readers have been enjoying the poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, or more commonly known, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, since it was published in 1823. However, the Christmas masterpiece’s writer, Clement Clark Moore, didn’t announce that he was in fact the writer until 1837.

Moore was persuaded by his children to out himself as the author; he didn’t think writing modern verse would be good for his reputation as a professor of ancient languages.

You can make the argument professor Moore’s poem shaped the way we celebrate Christmas to this day. How do we know the names of Santa’s reindeer? From Moore of course. There would be no Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Comet, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner or even Blitzen if it wasn’t for the New York native.

And, by having Santa arrive on Christmas Eve – unlike some works that showed Santa dropping by right on Christmas Day, Moore avoided stirring up anti-Catholic resentment. See, in the early 1800s, News Year’s Day was the big family holiday. And Protestants were suspicious of Christmas, thinking it was born out of “Catholic ignorance.”

And even our vision of that jolly old elf Santa, with his long white beard, his red snow suit and his pipe, came from illustrated versions of the poem that Americans have long grown up with.

When was ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ written?

Moore penned the poem in 1923 and it was published anonymously in a local New York state newspaper. Soon after, a number of writers tried to convince the public that they wrote the poem. Because Moore didn’t publicize that fact that he wrote the poem until years later, scholars to this day are still trying to definitively prove his authorship. And those scholars are divided as to who the poem should be attributed to.

What is the theme of The Night Before Christmas?

That most wonderful time of the year

The theme of the popular poem is the enjoyment of the Christmas holiday!

In a happy, long ago household on Christmas Eve, a couple is just settling down after putting their children to bed. They hear a loud commotion on the room and the father springs into action. He throws open the drapes to see Santa coming in for a landing in his reindeer-powered sleigh, incidentally, filled to the brim with toys.

The dad, transfixed, watches as Santa’s sleigh lands on his own roof. He hears the prancing reindeer and literally witnesses St. Nick sliding down the chimney. Thank goodness the couple had let the fire go out, or Santa would have been a tad singed.

Waiting to see how this brouhaha was going to end, the father further sees Santa place toys in his kids’ stockings.

By now, Santa was on to him. So, as Santa climbed back up the chimney, he gave the dad a little nod, acknowledging his presence. A split second later, Santa and the reindeer were soaring through the crisp winter air on to the next child on his list.

But what’s it all about?

You may be wondering what Moore’s intentions were in writing the classic verses. He very rarely spoke about his masterpiece, wanting instead to focus on his ancient text scholarship.

But here’s what I think. I think it’s about family. Families of all kinds. Loving families. The family in the story is full of excitement for the holiday. The kids can’t wait to see what Santa has brought them. The parents are exhausted from decorating and just want to get some sleep before the kids wake up in excitement at the crack of dawn.

And then Santa shows us, show the family, and us all, the true meaning of Christmas – togetherness, sharing, love and kindness. No one is forcing Santa to take time out of his schedule to fly throughout the world, secretly handing out presents to good children. He’s doing it out of his own good will. He’s setting an example for little boys and girls to treat others with kindness, especially during the holidays.

That’s what Christmas is truly about, family togetherness and all that goes with it. Kindness, love, and sharing. That’s what my family’s Christmas is about, and I hope that’s what your family’s Christmas, or really, any holiday celebration is about!

What reading level is ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas?

Publisher Scholastic Books suggests that the poem would be perfect for parents to guide their pre-K to second grade readers, with third grade readers proficient enough solo read.

There are many versions of the illustrated classic to choose from. Cottage Door Press has a version with thicker pages so little hands won’t cause too much wear and tear.

And this version, with the 1912 illustrations, will delight young and old. Illustrator Jessie Willcox Smith depicts the rosy cheeked Santa  with the belly filled with jelly that we all know and love.

Over the years,  some editors have updated the poem, changing the original “Happy Christmas” to the more common “Merry Christmas” and “The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow” to “The moon on the crest of the new-fallen snow.”

Despite the changes or perhaps due to the updates, the poem is still well-loved and is still of staple of our Christmas celebrations.

What are “Sugar Plums” in ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas?

We can all recite the line in Moore’s poem, “While visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.” But what the heck are sugar plums? Well, for one thing, sugar plums don’t actually contain plums, or any fruit for that matter.

Some food scholars believe the name came from the shape of the sweet. Sugar plums are actually a candy with a hard sugary outer shell surrounding a nut or a seed.

So, when ‘Twas the Night Before Xmas spoke of the dancing sugar plums, Moore could have been referencing candied fennel, cardamom or even coriander. The hard candies were a sweet and spicy treat, still enjoyed around the world to this day.

Holiday traditions

Historically, some cultures that you wouldn’t bother asking about their Christmas traditions included the English Puritans and later, the Pilgrims, as they were against the revelry, fun and excitement of the holiday. Many people objected to the holiday’s pagan roots. And Protestants specifically did not approve of some of the food served at Christmas, like mince pies and plum pudding, as they believe those foods were associated with Catholicism. Even so, Christmas was enthusiastically celebrated in the early years of what would become the United States.

But, just like in ye olde days, we still observe some of the same traditions as people did in years past.

We still enthusiastically listen to Christmas carols just as revelers did in the 1700s. Though now, we are treated to weeks of Christmas carols on the radio or over the PA systems in stores. I may be the only one who loves those 24-hour Christmas music channels!

Also, we still plan and eat elaborate meals, inviting our friends and family over to join us. It’s not Christmas unless we are surrounded by our loved ones.

And, we finish our meals as they did back in Colonial times, with a variety of sweet treats. Apparently, food comas have been happening for years!

And since 1823, the tradition, especially in the U.S., has been to listen to a reading of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Christmas only comes around once a year and it’s such an exciting and magical time. And traditions abound. I feel connected to my family through the holiday and our traditions.

The day after Thanksgiving is when we put up our Christmas lights outside. There’s nothing better than driving around at night, looking at the colorful lights that your neighbors display.

Also in my family, one of our traditions is to hang our grandma-made Christmas stockings. And, after I put my stocking up, I can’t wait to decorate my Christmas tree, even though I have to surround it with a doggie play pen so my chihuahua won’t pull the ornaments off, as he likes to do.

Because holidays are always about the food, it’s almost time to stock up on all the ingredients for those well-loved recipes that have been handed down for generations in my family. Cookies, cannolis, pies, I can’t wait for all of the foods we only eat once a year.

And yes, I’ve got to get all the fixing for my grandma’s famous lasagna as it’s my turn to make it this year.

When we’ve finished dinner and the plates are washed and put away, that’s when we gather around my grandma’s living room. I’ve sat in this room for almost every Christmas eve of my life, and I bet my mother has for most of her life. It’s our Christmas, our tradition.

That’s when my grandma turns down her Johnny Mathis Sings Christmas CD and gets ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas off her bookshelf.

The kids, lounging on the floor in a food coma, always perk up when grandma starts reading.

Even us adults, we lean in, listening with rapt attention as grandma recites the ultimate in family togetherness stories.

And, as Santa and the reindeer fly off to continue their gift giving trek, I think we all feel a little closer to our relatives. To our sisters and brothers. And to our parents and grandparents.

That’s the legacy of Moore’s verses. He’s captured what it’s like to be in a warm, loving family, enjoying the togetherness of the Christmas season. I wish everyone could feel the love that grandma reads to us about every year.

I think that’s what we all should strive for. Making the world the type of place where everyone can enjoy, love and feel loved during Christmas or their own favorite holiday.

T'was the Night Before Christmas

A Visit from St. Nicholas


‘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 my 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 breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment he 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, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the housetop 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 pedler 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 on 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 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 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!”