From Garrison Keillor's "The Writer's Almanac" on NPR:
Today is Christmas Eve, the subject of the beloved holiday poem that begins:"'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads."
The poem, now known as "The Night Before Christmas," was first published anonymously in a small newspaper in upstate New York in 1823, and its original title was "Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas." It was thought for many years to have been written by Clement Clarke Moore. But today some scholars believe that a Revolutionary War major named Henry Livingston Jr. may have been the actual author of "The Night Before Christmas." His family has letters describing his recitation of the poem before it was originally published, and literary scholars have found many similarities between his work and "The Night Before Christmas." He was also three-quarters Dutch, and many of the details in the poem, including names of the reindeer, have Dutch origins.
But whoever wrote the poem, "The Night Before Christmas" changed the way Americans celebrate the holiday of Christmas by reinventing the character of Santa Claus, and by combining St. Nicholas Day with Christmas.
The image of Santa went through many variations, until the political cartoonist Thomas H. Nast drew a picture of the fat, jolly man with a white beard that became the standard version. Santa started wearing red and white clothing after an ad campaign for Coca Cola in the 1930s.
In Holland, children are now visited by St. Nicholas on December 5th, and on Christmas Eve they are visited by Santa Claus, whom they call, "American Christmas Man."
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