You are familiar with the poem A Visit from S. Nicholas, you just may know it as “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” This poem was originally published anonymously, on December 23, 1823, by the New York Sentinel. This poem is attributed to Clement Clarke Moore, but there are many that believe that the true author is Henry Livingston, Jr. While it is an interesting discussion worth checking out, it is not relevant to this particular post.
No myth busting today; I just want everyone to enjoy the holidays. I was fortunate enough that I only had to work briefly this morning, and I will be off tomorrow. More than any gift I could hope to receive would excite me, I am most excited to spend time with my wife–and drink eggnog. I plan on drinking lots and lots of eggnog.
A Visit from St. Nicholas is one of the most defining pieces of history which resulted in the solidification of Santa Claus. Before this poem, there were many variations of Santa. There was your evil, wizard looking Santa; the Father Time looking Santa; the Catholic Cardinal looking Santa; and the plump Santa. Because of phrases like the following, we now have one symbolic Santa:
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot…
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back…
cheeks were like roses…
beard of his chin was as white as the snow…
a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly…
That describes the Santa Claus that I know. Well, all the above plus a Coke. In this day and age, Santa without a coke in his hand is equivalent to Santa without his beard. It just wouldn’t seem right!
The second permanent change to the Christmas holiday was the poem’s addition of reindeer names. A Visit from St. Nicholas is where all the reindeer names–with the exception of Rudolph–came from.
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!
Rudolph was added more than one-hundred years later, in 1939, in Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer. This story, by Robert L. May, became an instant Christmas classic.
What I found most interesting about the reindeer were the names Donner and Blitzen.
In the original dutch version, the two names were “Dunder and Blixem.” The translation of “Dunder and Blixem” is “Thunder and Lightning,” respectively. The explanation is a lengthy one, but the quick version is as follows. (From Wiki Answers.)
Two of the reindeer names, Donner/Donder and Blitzen, are often the source of confusion, misspelling, and misinformation. The short facts are these: Donner/Donder and Blitzen were named ”Dunder” and ”Blixem” (the Dutch words for ”thunder” and ”lightning”) in the original printing of “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” In reprints of the poem, the names became ”Donder” and ”Blixen,” then ”Donder” and ”Blitzen” (the latter being German for ”lightning”). By the time Johnny Marks wrote “Rudolph,” it was ”Donner” and ”Blitzen” (possibly because ”Donder” was musically awkward).
If you want a more in-depth explanation, Snopes.com and About.com both have excellent articles on the matter.