December 17, 2020

#08-024: A Visit from Saint Nicholas

Santa Claus emerging from a fireplace
"...his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot"

Note: December is the month of St. Nicholas, from his feast day on December 6 to Christmas on the 25th (or its eve). The connection between the two dates was cemented by Clement Clarke Moore's poem, "A Visit from Saint Nicholas," first published (anonymously) in 1823.

"Santa Claus," as you may know, comes from the Dutch name for Saint Nicholas, Sinter Klaas. New York, where the poet Moore lived, had been settled by the Dutch--in fact, the southern tip of Manhattan Island was called "New Amsterdam" from 1609 to 1664--and so he had probably heard lots of Dutch lore about the saint.

See the full text of the poem. along with a FULL LESSON, in The Library.

BONUS! Hear a reading of this classic poem by me, Professor Jim Bucket!

Get Ready: Do you believe in Santa Claus? What does he look like?

The  poem, "A Visit from Saint Nicholas," begins: "'Twas the night before Christmas..." and goes on to tell the story of Santa's visit. It includes many elements of what we now hold as Christmas lore.

The narrator says everything was peaceful. Stockings were hanging by the chimney, and the children were dreaming of "sugar plums," a kind of sweet. The narrator and his wife had just lain down when he heard a great noise outside. Jumping out of bed and opening the window, he saw out on the snowy lawn "a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer," with "a little old driver": St. Nick himself!

The old man called the flying reindeer by the names we still use--Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, and Blitzen--and guided them up to the roof of the house. The sleigh was "full of toys," and St. Nicholas came "Down the chimney... with a bound," carrying a sackful of them. He was dressed in fur, and he was covered with "ashes and soot" from the chimney.

The narrator describes the figure much as we picture him today: twinkling eyes, dimples, rosy cheeks, a cherry-like nose, a small bow-like mouth, and a white beard. He was smoking a pipe, and had a broad face and "a little round belly, / That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly." (He was, after all, "chubby and plump," causing the narrator to "laugh... in spite of [him]self.")

The "jolly old elf" didn't speak, but after a wink at the narrator went straight to work filling the stockings. He then lay "his finger aside of his nose, / And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose." On the roof, he jumped into his sleigh and "gave a whistle" to his team of reindeer, and off they flew. "But," the narrator says in ending his story, "I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight, / 'Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!'"


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. cemented
  2. chimney
  3. dimples
  4. ere
  5. eve
  6. lawn
  7. lore
  8. narrator
  9. sleigh
  10. twinkling

  1. before (old-fashioned)
  2. a kind of wagon with blades instead of wheels, for traveling on snow
  3. made certain
  4. shining off and on with light
  5. traditions and stories
  6. a structure for carrying smoke from a fireplace or stove
  7. the person telling a story
  8. the night before a holiday
  9. a hollow area in a person's cheek (seen when they smile)
  10. an area (usually) covered by grass

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for December 17, 2020

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. c; 2. f; 3. i; 4. a; 5. h; 6. j; 7. e; 8. g; 9. b; 10. d