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Lines by Heart: Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore

Written by Rachael Norris, 19th December 2020

Head of Learning and Quality at The Reader, Dr. Clare Ellis reads Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore. The theme for our daily readings this month is 'Winter Warmth'. Check out the rest of our readings for December and download the calendar here.

I've just bought my nephew a wonderful illustrated version of this timeless classic and I am hoping that he will have much fun with it over Christmas!

We are often asked for poems that make you smile at The Reader, and I'm afraid I'm not too good at meeting those requests - often finding comfort in literature that is brave enough to shine a light on the darker moments of our lives rather than seeking the tinsel and glitter. But I do make an exception with Twas the Night Before and it does make me smile.

I have read this poem countless times to fellow readers over the years, from babes in arms to older people who may not be able to read any more due to loss of sight or cognitive impairments. This poem never fails to bring a sparkle back.

I wanted to memorise the whole poem for you all but think I slightly underestimated the challenge. So, after a week of thinking about the poem, trying to think of which actions or visual clues might help me to remember the poem, doing voice recordings of it into my phone to play back later, I have just about managed to recall the first 12 lines or so - just pulling up short before Santa goes on to name all of his reindeers!

My favourite lines are still the first two - 'Twas the night before Christmas/ When all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse'. I love the sense of utter quiet and calm in this opening, it makes me want to be in such a moment - everything and everyone seem to be at peace. And yet - I think I also like it because I know what is coming - the magic of Saint Nicholas - Santa - Father Christmas - or whatever name he goes by for you! I love the idea that someone or something out there in the moon lit sky is taking care of me and others whilst I lie asleep, snug as a bug!

I am aware that some people have not grown up with an experience of Christmas. I once read to a young mum who told me that when she had children of her own, that's when Christmas started for her but that she had to learn how to do it by asking other people at first. She had never had Christmas herself as a child you see. She had never heard of Twas the Night Before Christmas.

So, please do share some of this festive cheer and see who far you can get with it - I bet you'll do better than my misquoted 10 lines! And please do let us know!

Happy Holidays Dear Readers!
Clare x


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!”

By Clement Clarke Moore

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