088 - The Night Before Christmas

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Also known as A Visit From Santa Claus is one of the most read and referenced poems in English.

The American English Podcast

The American English Podcast

By Shana Thompson

Hi Everyone!

Welcome back to Episode #088. Today we will be talking about a poem, a very famous poem. In fact it may be one of the most read and referenced poems in English. 

Don’t quote me on that, but it’s a poem that you’ll hear on the radio in the U.S. as December 25th approaches, you’ll see lines from it on Christmas cards, in advertisements and in many many movies. It’s called A Visit from Santa Claus, but you may know it as The Night Before Christmas. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, or you don’t believe in Santa Clause, but you are interested in American Culture, keep listening. 

My parents used to read this poem to me before going to bed on December 24 so it has a special place in my heart. I have to admit though, some of the vocabulary is no longer used today though, so even though I and probably a good chunk of Americans know this poem by heart, we don’t necessarily know the meaning of every word. For those of you who’d like the full transcript and explanation of the challenging words, I highly recommend signing up for Premium content. You can get access to this by signing up to Season 2…

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088 – The Night Before Christmas.mp3 transcript powered by Sonix—easily convert your audio to text with Sonix.

088 – The Night Before Christmas.mp3 was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the latest audio-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors. Sonix is the best audio automated transcription service in 2020. Our automated transcription algorithms works with many of the popular audio file formats.

Hi, everybody, my name is Shana and this is the American English Podcast. My goal here is to teach you the English spoken in the United States. Through common expressions, pronunciation tips and interesting cultural snippets or stories, I hope to keep this fun, useful and interesting. Let’s do it!

Hi, everyone. Welcome back to episode number 88. Today, we’ll be talking about a poem, one of the most read and referenced poems in English. It’s a poem you’ll hear on the radio in the US as December 25th approaches, you’ll see lines from it on Christmas cards, in advertisements, and you’ll hear it in many movies. It’s called A Visit from Santa Claus, but you may know it as The Night Before Christmas.

If you don’t celebrate Christmas or you don’t believe in Santa Claus, but you are interested in American culture, keep listening. My parents used to read this poem to me before going to bed on December 24th, which is Christmas Eve in the United States. Christmas is normally celebrated on December 25th.

I have to admit, though, some of the vocabulary in the text is no longer used today. So even though I, and probably a good chunk of Americans know this poem by heart, we don’t necessarily know the meaning of every word.

For those of you who would like the full transcript and explanation of the challenging words, I highly recommend signing up for premium content. You can gain access to this particular episode by signing up to season two at americanenglishpodcast.com. Today, I’d like to tell you first the background of the poem, and after I’m done, I’ll read through the poem slowly.

So let’s begin with the background.

The very famous poem, A Visit from Santa Claus, was published for the first time in the Sentinel newspaper in Troy, New York, on December 23, 1923. It was an instant hit among readers.

Newspapers across the nation picked up the story and published it, and soon enough, everyone knew the story of what happened the night before Christmas. In the poem, a chubby, bearded man named Santa Claus traveled around the world on a sleigh, went down chimneys with his colossal sack of toys and left some behind for children.

The poem was the first ever to describe Santa traveling by sleigh and with a team of reindeer. It was the first time he traveled around the world, landed on rooftops and went down chimneys. It was the first time Santa was described as jolly and big-bellied.

This poem gave way to our modern perception of Santa Claus. After all, it was the inspiration for the artist Haddon Sundblom, who used lines from the poem to help him paint the classic images of Santa Claus for Coca-Cola in the 1950s. You can learn more about that, though, in episode number 35, The Last Straw, which is about the history of Coca-Cola.

Needless to say, the poem has had a profound impact on American culture. Yet there is a problem. The submission was anonymous. The author’s name had not been written next to the poem.

So who gave us this modern version of Santa?

In 1837, fourteen years after its original publication, a university professor named Clement Clarke Moore came forward and claimed that he was the author of A Visit from Santa Claus. He said he had written it to amuse his children. He said the sleigh was inspired by a sleigh ride he had taken when shopping in New York. The description for Santa was inspired by the real Saint Nicholas, who gave gifts to children in secret. As for Santa’s appearance in the red suit, chubby and happy, it was a mishmash of the real Saint Nicholas and a local Dutch handyman that he knew.

When people asked Clement Moore why he hadn’t come forward sooner and lay claim on his work, he said that the poem didn’t represent the scholarly works he wanted to be associated with. Moore taught Oriental and Greek literature and was involved in Bible studies at a Protestant church. Santa Claus had nothing to do with all of that.

For a time, people were satisfied with Clement’s story. Clement was the man who made it all. That is, until 20 years later, when the family of a man named Henry Livingston came forward and said, hold the phone, our father wrote that poem.

According to Henry Livingston’s children, the poem fit their father’s style and meter. They also pointed out that their father was Dutch and that his Dutch heritage gave him a good understanding of Sinterklaas, a legendary figure in the Netherlands who gives gifts to children, dresses in a red suit and fur, and is celebrated in December. They also explained that Donder and Bliksem, two of Santa’s reindeer, had Dutch names, meaning thunder and lightning.

Historians continue to argue about the author of the poem today, as it’s still relevant for its impact on American culture. The text structures have been analyzed as well as the author’s signatures. Other works of the authors have been scrutinized to check for similarities. But for every argument, there’s a counter argument. For every claim, there’s another that negates it. In the end, Clement Clarke Moore is most often credited.

So without further ado, I’d like to read a visit from Santa Claus or The Night Before Christmas to you.

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. And mama in her kerchief and I in my cap had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter. Away to the window, I flew like a flash, tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow gave the lustre of midday to objects below. When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer. With a little old driver so lively and quick I knew in a moment it must be Saint Nick. More rapid than eagles his coursers they came, and he whistled and shouted and called them by name: Now Dasher, now Dancer, now Prancer and Vixen on Comet, on Cupid, on Donner and Blitzen. To the top of the porch. To the top of the wall. Now dash away, dash away, dash away all.

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, when they meet with an obstacle mount to the sky. So up to the house, the coursers they flew with the sleigh full of toys and St. Nicholas too.

And then in a twinkling I heard on the roof the prancing and pawing of each little hoof. As I drew in my head and was turning around down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound. He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot, and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot. A bundle of toys he had flung on his back, and he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

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 bowl full of jelly. He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread. He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work and filled all the stockings then turned with a jerk. And laying his finger aside of his nose, and giving a nod up the chimney he rose.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team, gave a whistle, and away they all flew like the down of a thistle. But I heard him exclaim ere he drove out of sight. Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!

That’s it for today’s episode. Just to reiterate, I’m aware that this audio was challenging. Remember, I mentioned at the beginning that the text was first published in 1823 – that’s almost 200 years ago! I definitely do think it’s important to know the poem and understand the gist if you enjoy Christmas films made in the US, if you like Christmas culture, if you like American culture, yeah; you’ll be surprised how often this poem is referenced once you start paying attention.

Once again, be sure to sign up to season two if you’d like the bonus content for this episode that contains a vocabulary builder, definitions of the words, pictures with the vocabulary and of course, a listening comprehension quiz. Hope you enjoyed it, and until next time! Bye.

Thank you for listening to this episode of the American English Podcast. Remember, it’s my goal here to not only help you improve your listening comprehension, but to show you how to speak like someone from the States.

If you want to receive the full transcript for this episode or you just want to support this podcast, make sure to sign up to premium content on americanenglishpodcast.com. Thanks, and hope to see you soon!

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Shana - ESL Teacher

Hi Everyone! I am an ESL teacher from California and the host of the American English Podcast. Learn more about me and my teaching experience here.

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