Monday, February 10, 2014

The Visit: The Origin of "The Night Before Christmas," by Mark Kimball Moulton (illustrated by Susan Winget)

The Visit:
The Origin of “The Night Before Christmas”
Author: Mark Kimball Moulton
Illustrator: Susan Winget
Publisher: Schiffer
Publication Date: October 28, 2013
Source: NetGalley
View on Amazon

Everyone knows The Night Before Christmas. For many of us, reciting it is an essential part of our Christmas tradition. Clement C. Moore famously wrote the poem for his children and greatly influenced our image of Santa Claus. In this book, Mark Kimball Moulton re-imagines the "origins" of Clement C. Moore's classic Christmas poem, originally called "A Visit from St. Nicholas," with an illustrated poem of his own. He describes Moore travelling through the snow on a winter day ("the moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow" and all that) and encountering Jan-Peter, a kindly man with a white beard and long red coat who gives treats (you guessed it: sugarplums) to the village children. Moulton claims that his account is accurate as it was told to him by Florence Dinghy Sharp, whose grandfather's grandfather was Clement Clarke Moore.

Moulton claims that this origin story was passed down from generation to generation and then told to him in an interview. Even if that is so, I'm quite certain it was not passed down in verse. And I can't help but feel that more of it is pure fantasy rather than family history. The "man in the red cloak" for instance, is not only narratively convenient but highly dubious. There is no red cloak in The Night Before Christmas. In Moore's poem, Saint Nick is "dressed all in fur from his head to his foot." The idea of a red suit came later, though not simply as an invention of the Coca-Cola company, as commonly believed. But I digress.

Accurate or not, the idea behind the book is a nice one. And the illustrations could not be more beautiful. Honestly, they're so lovely I could imagine many of them hanging on the wall as a print or gracing a Christmas card. But the rhyme is clunky and trite and far too long.
It was late in December,and I, but a child,when our dear Mother bent downand hugged us and smiled.

"Come--let's pack our valises,"she said to us all,"for a visit with Granddad,"she said, I recall.
Too much of that will make your teeth rot, it's so syrupy. For that reason, I doubt The Visit is destined to be the kind of Christmas classic its author so admires.

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