“A Visit From St. Nicholas”: Playing the Reindeer Name Game


On this date in 1823, “A Visit From St. Nicholas” was published for the first time.

Here are some facts you may not have known about what has come to be known as “The Night Before Christmas.”

The poem was originally published anonymously in the Sentinel newspaper in Troy, New York.

In 1837, it was attributed to Clement Clarke Moore, a professor of literature and divinity at the Episcopal General Theological Seminary in New York.

Moore owned much of what is now the Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan. He made a fortune subdividing his property, which included an apple orchard on which the seminary was built.

Moore claimed authorship of “A Visit From St. Nicholas” in 1844 when he included it in an anthology of his poems, at the request of his children.

The professor is said to have written the poem while on a sleigh ride during a shopping trip. Moore was a friend of writer Washington Irving, and borrowed several ideas from Irving’s description of St. Nicholas, including the idea of the flying sleigh.

The eight reindeer, however, were named for the first time in Moore’s poem.

Originally, the names were Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixem. Dunder eventually became Donner and Blixem became Blitzen. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer didn’t make his debut until a 1939 advertisement for the Montgomery Ward department store.

Moore’s poem follows the story of a father who wakes up to a noise outside his house on Christmas Eve night. He looks out the window and sees St. Nicholas’ sleigh flying through the sky, eventually landing on the roof of the house. St. Nicholas comes into the house through the chimney and leaves presents for the children. He notices the father and winks at him. St. Nicholas then touches his nose and rises up the chimney to the roof from where he and the reindeer leave.

The poem in written in anapestic tetrameter, which is a familiar not only from “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” but also many works by Dr. Seuss. The meter consists of four sets of two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable in each line, for instance: 1-2-3 1-2-3 1-2-3 1-2-3.

Some have argued that Moore didn’t write the poem at all, and that it was written by Henry Livingston Jr. Despite these claims, the consensus seems to be that that Moore was the actual author.

Clement Clarke Moore died in 1863 in Newport, Rhode Island at the age of 83.

Our question, What do the names Donner and Blitzen mean in German?

Today is Victory Day in Egypt, Night of the Radishes in Oaxaca, Mexico and Festivus, a holiday popularized by the sitcom “Seinfeld,” so get ready for the airing of grievances and feats of strength. It’s the birthday of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon church, Japanese Emperor Akihito and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder.


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