Who Really Wrote The Night Before Christmas?

The controversy has swirled since the 19th century.

The family of Major Henry Livingston, Jr., who died in 1828, claimed he was the real author of “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” though they had no physical evidence. For decades, the debate has ebbed and flowed with most scholars believing Moore is the author.

What we do know is this. An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas, as the poem was first called, was originally published, anonymously, in New York’s Troy Sentinel newspaper on December 23rd, 1823.

Not only did the poem become a hit, but according to the New-York Historical Society, its description of old St. Nick, “permanently connected St. Nicholas to Christmas and led to our idea of Santa Claus.” It also established the names of Santa’s eight tiny reindeer, but not Rudolph.

For 14 years, the author of the poem remained unknown. Then in 1837, American author and poet Charles Fenno Hoffman, editor of The New-York Book of Poetry, outed his friend Moore, a New York scholar and author. In 1844, Moore finally acknowledged authorship when he included the poem in his collection entitled Poems.

Moore was a professor of Middle East and Greek Literature and theology, and wrote on a variety of subjects and had many of his works published, including a two-volume A Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language.

Livingston, according to the Poetry Foundation, published “occasional and light verse in regional journals and his poems were often published anonymously or under the pseudonym R.”

Moore and Livingston never met, and the latter died in 1828, years before Moore would ever take credit for the poem.

The story of how the poem came to be remains a source of controversy.

As the story goes, Moore wrote it as a Christmas present for his two daughters. He apparently told the New-York Historical Society that a “portly, rubicund Dutchman in the neighbourhood” was his model for St. Nicholas.

How the poem ended up at the Troy Sentinel is not exactly clear, but some claim a friend of the Moore family sent it in.

Yet the Livingston family claimed that the very same poem had been told to Livingston Jr.’s own children years earlier, in 1807.

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