Here Comes Santa Claus

Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863), “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” 1862. Autograph Manuscript (3 pp.). New-York Historical Society, Gift of the Author.

By Timothy Wroten

The modern red-suited, pot-bellied image of Santa Claus is the imaginative descendant of the historical fourth-century bishop St. Nicolas of Myra. Santa’s appearance and many surrounding holiday traditions owe much to the creative influence of some famous nineteenth-century New Yorkers, including Clement Clarke Moore, the author of “A Visit from St. Nicolas.”


His eyes-how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;

He had a broad face and a little round belly,

That shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.


“A Visit from St. Nicholas” was originally published anonymously in the Troy, New York Sentinel in 1823. Clement Clarke Moore, a theologian and Hebrew scholar, whose large family estate was in the Manhattan neighborhood today known as Chelsea, has generally been accepted as the author of the poem. Although his claim has sometimes been in dispute, Moore publicly acknowledged authorship in 1838. At the request of the Librarian of the New-York Historical Society in 1862, he wrote out this manuscript copy of the poem. It is currently on display at the New-York Historical Society, along with a neoclassical desk originally owned Moore, in It Happened Here: The Invention of Santa Claus.



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  1. […] Of course, many children received toys like these as gifts from Santa. And did you know Santa Claus was a New Yorker? The modern Santa was born in the imagination of Clement Clarke Moore, a scholar who penned a whimsical poem about St. Nicholas, the patron of old Dutch New York, for the amusement of his six children at Christmastime. Soon after the publication of “A Visit from St. Nicholas”—popularly known today by its opening line, “Twas the night before Christmas…”"—St. Nicholas became a popular feature of American Christmas celebrations. At the request of the Librarian of the New-York Historical Society in 1862, he wrote out a manuscript copy of the poem, which the New-York Historical Society still holds in its library. Read more about it here! […]

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