Guest post by Simon Kewin
One of the Christmas traditions that has grown up in our household is to read Clement Clarke Moore’s poem A Visit From St. Nicholas (more commonly called ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas) every Christmas Eve. It’s become a vital part of our family’s celebrations, something our children would miss hugely. I know others do this too. I have a relative whose grown up child lives on the other side of the planet - and still gets the poem read to her via a phone call.
It always amuses me, though, how Christmas as represented by the poem (which was written in 1823) differs from our modern version. Clearly Santa Claus, despite being a timeless and magical entity, is not averse to the vagaries of fashion.
Santa wears fur
These days he prefers the red outfit with the fur trimmings although for many years he also wore green. In the poem he is dressed in neither – instead he is “all in fur, from his head to his foot”. Hopefully the red outfit keeps him as warm as the fur one did.
Santa is an elf
These days we tend to think of Santa as a man who has elves to help him make the presents and so forth. Back in the early nineteenth century they appeared to think he was one himself, as the poem describes him as “a right jolly old elf.” Of course, this might be metaphorical - or perhaps there is elven blood in Santa’s origins. It might explain some of his incredible magical abilities.
No sign of Rudolph
the most famous of the reindeer – the one with the very shiny nose – doesn’t always help pull Santa’s sleigh. In the year the poem was written, for instance, there were eight reindeer listed and Rudolph isn’t among them. Instead we have Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen. Presumably there is a large stable of reindeer at the North Pole, and Santa picks a different team every year. Or perhaps Rudolph was simply having a rest that year.
Santa doesn’t always stay out of sight
Thee days we tend to assume we won’t see Santa when he arrives, but that wasn’t the case back in 1823. The narrator of the poem sees Santa come down the chimney, and Santa doesn’t appear to be concerned. Instead he gives “A wink of his eye and a twist of his head” to tell the narrator “I had nothing to dread”. Perhaps Santa has become more careful over the intervening years.
Santa has the power to alter size
As well as the ability to move at huge speed (or bend time), and to carry a vast weight of presents, Santa also appears to have the ability to change size at will. At one point in the poem his carriage is described as “a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer”, but clearly he can be big enough to carry large presents, too.
Santa has given up smoking
Santa, as an ageless and magical being, presumably doesn’t suffer any of the side-effects of tobacco, but clearly at some point he has given up smoking. In the poem he smokes a pipe, and the smoke “encircled his head like a wreath”. Perhaps he stopped so he didn’t set a bad example to anyone who did manage to catch a glimpse of him.
So, the poem gives us a fascinating insight into Christmas past. I wonder how things will be different in a couple of hundred years from now?
The poem can be found here.
Simon Kewin is the author of over 100 published short and flash stories. His works have appeared in Nature, Daily Science Fiction, Abyss & Apex and many more. He lives in England with his wife and their daughters. The second volume in his Cloven Land fantasy trilogy has just been published. Find him at simonkewin.co.uk.
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