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On not heart-ing Clement Moore

On not heart-ing Clement Moore

Nineteen years ago, the Rev. Roger Ferlo, who is now president of Seabury and Bexley Hall Seminaries, was rector of St. Luke in the Fields in Greenwich Village, a church where Clement Moore, author of A Visit from St. Nicholas, otherwise known by its first line: “Twas the Night Before Christmas” was once senior warden.

Ferlo, as it happens, hates the poem, and when he said so, in an op-ed for the New York Times, it sparked a fierce reaction.

Here’s a taste, but read the whole thing:

His scowling ghost hovers over the place like the nightmare before Christmas. It was in a grand old house like this that he was moved to inflict “A Visit From Saint Nicholas” on a world too willing to like it.

I hate that poem. It’s the kind of thing a middlebrow Episcopal Hebrew professor writes to indulge his sentimental idea of what a Knickerbocker Ward Christmas should look like. No rats stirring; windows with shutters and sashes; St. Nick down the chimney; smug Protestant children snug in their beds; all those silly reindeer; that lousy rhyme scheme. Too much peace and niceness. Left unmentioned are the Irish and Italians who threatened to overwhelm the neighborhood from their noisy enclaves south of Houston Street. A perfectly gentrified Christmas for a newly gentrified neighborhood.

Not in my house.

I grew up Italian Catholic in an upstate working-class town near Utica. We didn’t know from gentry. On the night before Christmas, you sit in a darkened church. A soupy little electric organ plays Silent Night. Everybody kneels, humming along, staring at the creche



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Murdoch Matthew

Dunno why The Lead resurrects this anti-Moore screed by Ferlo. Yes, outside middle-class Anglo home life, there were struggling and ill-treated immigrants — and outside the immigrants were the native-born Black citizens being displaced from even menial jobs in the industrializing Northeast. Injustice enough for all. One could write a poem about that, which wouldn’t be “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”

To undermine the reputation of the Sage of Chelsea, one might look into the suspicions that Clement Moore didn’t actually write the poem for which he’s famous:

There are those who now believe that “Twas the Night Before Christmas” was, in reality, written by a man named Henry Livingston, years before Clement C. Moore claimed to have created the poem. Don Foster, an English professor at Vassar College and an expert and scholar on authorial attribution, or who wrote what in layman’s terms, believes that Clement Moore took credit for something he did not write. Foster thinks that Livingston, a poet of Dutch ancestry who lived in upstate New York, wrote “A Visit From St. Nicholas” long before Moore supposedly did. Livingston, who wrote poetry for his family and did not have much of it published, was fancy free, humorous, witty, and well-intended, or about the exact opposite of Moore, who was a professor of Oriental and Greek literature and a Bible scholar.

Foster believes that Moore, who lived in Manhattan, recited Livingston’s poem for his own children. “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” was heard by a family friend, a Miss Harriet Butler, and she was so taken with the verses that she copied them down and sent it into the Troy Sentinel, which published it in on December 23rd, 1923, without crediting an author. Years later, in 1837, as the poem gained amazing popularity, a publisher friend of Clement Moore’s, Charles Hoffman, included the work in a book of poems and credited Moore with being the author. Moore finally decided, according to Foster’s theory, that he might as well accept the poem as being his work, and he included it in a release of some of his pieces in 1844, saying that he hadn’t wanted to be known as the author up to that point because he was embarrassed that such a silly poem would garner more attention than his other, more somber and meaningful writings. Of course, Moore made sure that Livingston, who passed away at the age of 80 in 1828, was long gone before he claimed “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” as his own.

Christopher Johnson

In the immortal words of the late, lamented actor Warren Oates, “Lighten up, Francis!”


“His scowling ghost hovers over the place like the nightmare before Christmas.”

The Rev. Ferlo, I presume? O_o

(j/k, I agree w/ JohnC. “Different strokes, etc”)

JC Fisher

A blessed Christmas to all at the Cafe (and to all, a Good Night! ;-D)

John B. Chilton

Ha. De gustibus non est disputandum. I visited a UU church this past Sunday. It was packed and vibrant. The sense of community was palpable. As was the appreciation for the gift of children. And, as it happened, the Night Before Christmas was read with the children gathered around. I liked it. De gustibus non est disputandum.

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