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.