1) Why does Twas the Night before Christmas still fascinate children today?
It is the anticipation of Santa’s arrival and of course the decorations and the presents, but it is the magic and wonder of it, the creativity and coming together of family and friends. It is a wonderfully creative story and full of flying reindeer that can be called by name. It has a lovely flow to the language and imagery. I asked the illustrators to add many animal images in the outdoor scenes as well as for to the
interior and to feature pets. I wanted children to be delighted with the images and detail on the pages. I had reviewed many other editions and I wanted this book to be a keepsake that one would enjoy as a three year old and then keep for generations. I have always loved books and as a child I
lived in a world of books - Charlotte’s Web an all time favorite. I have my childhood copy of Twas The Night Before Christmas to this day although it is rather dog-eared .Unfortunately it is covered in smoking imagery and has repeated imagery of Santa smoking. It was published in 1958 the year I was born and it was a gift when I was very young from my father. My father loved Christmas and always delighted us with bringing in the tree and wonderful special treats. For many of us Christmas memories, surrounded by family and friends are the very best of all as I am sure they are for many people.
I had a large extended family and Christmas as a child in our household was truly glorious and yet my sibling and I have suggested Billy Crystal or Family Vacation had nothing on the hilarious episodes that we experienced each family Christmas. I have always loved Christmas and enjoy celebrating the season of abundance. More the merrier is a family creed. This we apply to decorating, or including an extra quest to the table – when in doubt add more.
Moore was a scholar and a professor of Oriental and Greek Literature. His father for thirty five years was a bishop of the New York diocese and also served as president of Columbia College (later Columbia University). One of the most interesting aspects of this poem is tied to this religious connection. During the 1820’s Christmas Day was overtaking New Years Day as the most popular family holiday. By shifting the celebrations to Christmas Eve and focusing on children it solved the complication of religious preferences and practices. It is a holiday everyone can delight in, no matter their age or religious affiliations.
There is a wonderful lesson to be learned for children surrounding the giving and receiving of gifts, one which I was very pleased to have imparted to my own children. Many people express concern over the consumerism of Christmas – interesting note that 20% of all retail goods sold in the US are Christmas purchases, some estimates claim $200 billion is spent annually on Christmas presents. I had been reading up on how to instill help children with their finances and it was suggested that children be made responsible for buying gifts for other people out of an allowance they are given. The strategy goes like this, the child receives a set amount and half they can use for themselves or save and the other half goes into a budget for presents – including birthday presents for friends and family members. The parent can top up the purchase but the child needs to contribute. Each year more money is handed to the child and more responsibility and they slowly grow into taking on full responsibility for themselves but never loosing site of the true pleasure in giving to someone. The key is that the first financial responsibility a child has is in giving to others. My children are in their twenties and they have never lost the gift of giving. Often you see a child just be handed something to pass along instead of being given the opportunity to fully participate in choosing the gift and actively giving. Without Christmas Eve and the idea of presents and the giving and receiving of gifts I think we would be a very different world. I have unfortunately forgotten the title of the book where I got the suggestion.
2) In 2011 the poem was on the New York Times best-seller list in the children's category for 36 weeks. It’s considered the most famous poem in American history, dating back to its initial publication nearly 200 years ago in a newspaper. Isn’t it sacrilegious to tinker with it?
In 1964 a great deal changed by way of public opinion with the release of the statement by the Surgeon General Luther Terry that smoking in fact poses serious health risk and in spite of efforts by the tobacco industry rates did drop. At one point it is estimated that upwards of 80% of males in the western world smoked – today it is somewhere around one in five Americans smoke. The anti smoking forces were outraged that tobacco could continue to promote their products and in particular that they could seek out young markets or to prime underage groups to be future smokers. In the 1990’s research was specifically conducted to casually link advertising with the use of tobacco by underage minors. The results of those studies where published in the Journal of the American Medical Association – very reputable source and gave more additional validity to the push to limit the reach of the tobacco industry – especially when it came to attracting children to its products. By 1998 the Master Settlement Agreement had been concluded and one of the specifications or terms of the settlement was the prohibiting of advertising of tobacco through the use of cartoon characters. The MSA resulted in the tobacco industry having to provide $206 Billion dollars over 25 years (in addition to the $40 billion they had already had to forfeit.) that this was passed on to the tobacco consumer is another discussion. The fascinating story of the history of the tobacco wars is extensively covered in the book entitled The Cigarette Century by Allan M. Brandt, a book that made it on the Pulitzer Prize finalists.
Particular lines have quietly slipped from the pages to protect the youngest of readers. Is
longevity sacred? Is it not best to have this poem carry on delighting millions of?
people of all ages and not see it cast aside or become obsolete? I think the only person who
would be pleased at that outcome is the mean one Mr. Grinch.
I have considered what a very young child might say in discovering for the first time the image of Santa smoking and also what my possible response would be if the child was to ask if Santa was going to die from smoking or some other questions that would demand an adequate response. What does one say to their grandchild when asked about this jolly elf’s smoking in the living room? Do we really want to stop in the middle of a magical Christmas moment, sitting around the fire and delighting in a wonder of it all and then having to bring out the perils of tobacco use lecture? Of course we could say that we have heard that he has recently quit but pictures speak volumes and that simply isn’t going to suffice. I have had my children ask me if I have ever smoked and I have answered truthfully and told them that I did once upon a time but quit and consider it unimaginable that I would ever smoke for I have come to highly value my lungs and my yoga practice. My children have never smoked and I know what my response was and I know that my mother and their paternal grandparents would have had a great deal of influence had they started. I think grandparents have a large and important role to play if given the opportunity. I had very close and important relationships with my grandparents.
3) The original author, Clement C. Moore, was a member of the New York Historical Society. Can you give us some context and perspective on the origins of the poem?
There has been ongoing debate as to who actually is the true poet of Christmas Eve as the poem was first published anonymously in the Troy Sentinal Newspaper in 1823. Moore took credit for it when he included it in a later anthology of his other work but family member of Washington Irving and Henry Livingston both laid claim to it. One of the arguments going against Clement Moore being the true poet comes from the evidence that Moore himself was a staunch anti-smoker.
The poem’s influence on Christmas has been immense and we can create this poem with a number of significant firsts: Santa coming by a reindeer team driven sleigh, that the reindeer had names
and that the journey took place on December 24th – moved from December 5th. The most important
change came with the new depiction of St. Nicholas as a merry gift giver. In this magical poem there is no list of good or bad children, any judgment of wrong or right and makes clear there is “nothing to dread”. It is benevolent, kind, loving and generous. This abundance and warmth is what endears many of us to its message and images.
The poem first appeared in print as A Visit from St. Nicholas. I chose to use the Twas The Night as it is part of the magic of the verse, the nostalgia and the lure – similar to Once Upon a Time – it sets the stage and is simply more fun than The Night Before Christmas in my way of thinking.
4) You rail against the dangers of smoking to our youth. Why does the issue personally resonate with you?
I think there is a general complacency about smoking in the urban world and a general belief that smoking
rates have come down. On a global basis the rise of smoking poses an enormous problem for everyone.
I have seen people who are addicted struggle daily to stop. Upwards of 80% of smokers wish they didn’t and I think this is a very sorry state of affairs and makes for a good deal of suffering. I notice people who smoke and find it surprising that other people have come to the conclusion that very few people are still smoking. 60% of individuals who experience clinical depression smoke and there are other groups who
have higher than average smoking levels. We have changed the social acceptance around smoking and
marginalized smokers, out of sight out of mind. I think it is particularly unfortunate for parents to be who want to quit but struggle to find a way. They suffer an even tougher road of social stigma associated with smoking. If I rail against the dangers it is in the addictive nature of nicotine and the way it robs people of their health and money for sometimes a lifetime and offers nothing in return.