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The Night Before Christmas By Clement Clarke Moore

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Published: 5 Dec 2012      

Clement Clarke Moore became one ofNew York's richest men, not only that but, one of it's most educated. He was born in 1779 to Charity Clarke, an ardent supporter of the American cause and Benjamin Moore a minister and a patriot. After his parents death Clement inherited from his mothers side of the family a large portion of land, that would someday become the Chelsea Districtin New York City. 

For young Clement Moore, his life's work did not to be found in the ministry as did his fathers. He had a great love of language and pursued the learning of ancient dialects of Hebrew, Greek and German. But he was a man of profound attachment to family, home and church. He donated property and for a short time, assumed the entire debt of Saint Peter's Church. 

He married a woman named Catherine Elizabeth and was entirely devoted to her. While courting her, Moore wrote to his future mother-in-law that he would carve her name into trees. Together, they had nine children. She unexpectedly died when she was only 30 years old, Clement was devastated. But he assumed her duties and enjoyed good relationships with his children and grandchildren. 

It is not hard to imagine then what happened that snowy Christmas Eve in 1822. Catherine sent her husband out into the snow and wind to get one more turkey, which she and the children were preparing as a donation to the poor. Their home, with six children at the time, was one filled with love and warmth and tradition. 

Clement ventured into town, his coachman being a jolly, round fellow with a long white beard and a most cheerful disposition. After he purchased the needed turkey from Jefferson's Market, with sleigh bells merrily ringing in his ears as the snow fell that Christmas Eve day, he composed a short poem. 

Clement returned home with the turkey and the family traditions of Christmas took hold. He added to them by delighting his young children that night by the fire with the first reading of "The Night Before Christmas", the poem he had composed that very afternoon. Then, he tucked his handwritten copy of his creation away and gave it no further thought. 

But his poem had made a powerful impression upon his children, who some months later shared it with a visiting family friend. This same friend, not knowing that Clements sole intent was to keep the poem private, sent it to the Troy Sentinel, where it was published anonymously just before Christmas in 1823. 

The poem quickly became loved of the public and spread Clement Moore's name around the world. It shaped the imagination of who Santa Claus is and what he looks like. Clement's work provided inspiration for Thomas Nast, an illustrator of political cartoons who gained notoriety as well for his early wood engravings of Christmas scenes published in Harper's Weekly. 

By 1844,Moore included A Visit from Saint Nicholas in a published collection of his poetic writings. He was a giant in his community, a trustee ofColumbiaUniversity, well known in academia for his scholarship in ancient languages and his real estate dealings shaped modern dayManhattan. But the world knows him and holds him dear for the "trifle", as he called it, that he penned for his children on a chilly sleigh ride back home from the market on Christmas Eve of 1822.