The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY, holds the original poem and Christmas classic, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Who wrote it?
The poem was first published on December 23, 1823 in the Troy, New York Sentinel.
It was first submitted to the Sentinel anonymously, left on the doorstep. With each year of increased popularity, Americans became more curious about the author of this poem.
In 1837 a professor in New York City, Clement Clarke Moore, a Biblical scholar, claimed that he wrote the poem to amuse his nine children. He said, he was inspired by a sleigh ride in Central Park, driven by a plump Dutchman. His creation was meant just for his family’s entertainment but his housekeeper took it without his knowledge and submitted it to the newspaper.
Moore did not think it was appropriate for a Biblical scholar to write such trifle so he kept quiet. His children, however, convinced him to admit publicly that the poem was his creation. He included the poem in an anthology of his writings.
Almost 40 years after his death in 1863, the grandchildren of a former Army major, Henry Livingston Jr., stated publicly that Moore did not write the poem, Livingston did.
The Livingston family claimed that their grandfather was a prolific poet who had recited the poem each Christmas to his children before it was published in the Sentinel. As a support to their claim, they used Livingston’s Dutch heritage. St. Nicholas is a character in Dutch folklore and some of the names of the reindeer, Donner, Blitzen, come from Dutch words.
They also claimed that a teacher had visited their home before the publication of the poem and she took a copy of the poem with her. Later she was employed by professor Moore and she shared the poem with his family.
As to the explanation why the Livingstons did not come out sooner with their version of the truth, they had no physical evidence to support their claim.
Professor Moore’s family vehemently denied the Livingston family’s claim.
The dispute remained unsolved for a century before it was finally resolved in 2016 when a New Zealand literary scholar, Donald P. Jackson, using a computer program he designed himself, compared the poem with the literary works of the two contenders.
Jackson's computer analysis of vocabulary usage, pattern, and structure of sentences of the two authors' prior publications and writings, left little room for doubt. According to this expert, Henry Livingston was the true author of the poem.
Why would Moore take credit for something he did not write? Perhaps it was the money, he wanted to capitalize on the popularity of the poem, and maybe he enjoyed the fame it brought him.