One of the most famous poems in the English language, particularly in the United States, is “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” This 1823 poem, originally published anonymously in the Troy Sentinel, an upstate New York newspaper, is most commonly attributed to Clement Clark Moore, who first asserted his authorship in 1837.
Many of the attributes we still give to Old Saint Nick (Santa Claus) originated or were popularized in this poem, from the concept of his arrival on Christmas Eve to the names of the eight reindeer to the use of the chimney as the way in and out of the house.
Over the years, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” has become better known by its first line, “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” or simply “The Night Before Christmas.” It has been put to music more than once, but today, for Christmas Eve, I wish to share a spoken-word version that I found in my collection this past fall.
Because it doesn’t require the ability to sing, many non-musical artists have recorded all or part of the poem over the years. Art Carney did a proto-rap version in 1954, which was imitated by Ross Bagdasarian (David Seville) on Christmas with the Chipmunks, Vol. 2 in 1963. A bunch of spoken-word versions came out in the 1990s: Members of the Magic Johnson-era Los Angeles Lakers recorded a version; Willard Scott did a version for a True Value Hardware CD in 1991; Jay Leno has done it; Rush Limbaugh did an appropriately conservative rendition for a CD in 1993; comedian Phil Hartman did it as a hidden track at the end of Dave Koz’s 1997 CD December Makes Me Feel This Way.
My Christmas Song of the Day is yet another version from the 1990s. It was recorded by the Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by John Williams and released on their CD Joy to the World in 1992. In this one, the narrator is Robin Williams (no relation to the conductor), and he injects some humor into it while keeping to the poem. I wasn’t expecting much when I first listened, but I found myself moved by this rendition.
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!