Category: Blog, Librarian Mom|December 6, 2013 6:00 am

Picturing Santa Claus: ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas Volume 2 (Day 6 of 25 Days of Christmas)

25 Days of Christmas

Yesterday I shared a little information about my favorite Christmas poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, or A Visit from St. Nicholas, by Clement Clarke Moore. As I briefly explained, the St. Nicholas described in the poem, which was written almost 200 years ago in 1823, inspired our modern incarnation of Santa Claus. However, as I also pointed out, the original version of St. Nicholas is quite different in a number of ways from our contemporary Santa:

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 bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!

Although the original St. Nicholas wears a fur suit, he is covered in ashes and soot rather than wearing a pristine red suit with snow white trim. He is also more diminutive and elf-life than our modern Santa Claus. As my daughter and I have been reading various versions of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas in anticipation of Christmas, she and I have paid close attention to the illustrations of St. Nicholas in each book. Here are some more of our favorite versions of the poem and my thoughts on each St. Nicholas.

The Night Before Christmas (1989)

The Night Before Christmas (1989) with illustrations by Cheryl Harness pictures St. Nicholas pretty closely the text of the original poem. He wears a red suit with white trim that I visibly dirtied with ashes and soot from sliding down chimneys. He is plump and somewhat shorter than more our modern Santa Claus. His eyes, however, fail to twinkle, and the dimples in his cheeks are not nearly as merry as some versions of St. Nicholas. The green mittens her wears in many of the pictures are also much more modern in style.

The Night Before Christmas (1989) 1 The Night Before Christmas (1989) 2

The Night Before Christmas: A Visit from St. Nicholas (2008)

The Night Before Christmas: A Visit from St. Nicholas (2008) with illustrated by Mike Terrell features a very modern imagining of Santa Claus. This St. Nicholas is very jolly with a round belly that appears to shake like a bowlful of jelly. His bright blue eyes twinkle merrily. However, he is much taller than the original elf-like man described in the original poem. His red and white fur suit is also free from the ashes and soot that would make him look more like a peddler than a formidable mythical holiday character.

The Night Before Christmas: A Visit from St. Nicholas (2008) 1 The Night Before Christmas: A Visit from St. Nicholas (2008) 2

The Night Before Christmas: A Michael Hague Pop-up Book (1981)

The Night Before Christmas: A Michael Hague Pop-up Book (1981) with illustrations by Michael Hague offers a fairly modern Santa Claus that still remains pretty true to the description of St. Nick in the original poem. Dress in a red fur suit with white trim, St. Nicholas is extremely elf-like, especially in his face. His blue eyes twinkle, and his dimples shine with merriness. The biggest deviance from the poem is that he lacks any dirtiness from ashes and soot.

The Night Before Christmas: A Michael Hague Pop-up Book (1981) 1 The Night Before Christmas: A Michael Hague Pop-up Book (1981) 2

The Night Before Christmas (1980)

The Night Before Christmas (1980) with illustrations by Tomie dePaola features artwork from the prolific children’s illustrator. The St. Nicholas in this edition of the poem is rather stylized, which is typical of dePaola’s work. Aside from the stylization, St. Nick very closely resembles the description in the original poem. He is short and round with an elf-ish face. Immediately after descending the chimney into the house, he dusts the visible ashes and soot off his red and white fur suit. His face could project a bit more merriness, but overall this St. Nicholas incarnates the original text while still embracing the modern notion of Santa Claus.

The Night Before Christmas (1980) 1 The Night Before Christmas (1980) 2

The Night Before Christmas (1998)

The Night Before Christmas (1998) with illustrations by Jan Brett imagines St. Nicholas with a more Germanic or Scandinavian appearance than modern American notions of Santa Claus. This St. Nicholas dresses in a long red coat with green and gold ornamentation with a matching red shit and gold pants. True to the poem, he is covered in ashes and soot. Even his long white beard appears dirtied from sliding down the chimney. His blue eyes twinkle, which adds to the merriness on his smiling face. Although he appears fairly tall, he still comes across as rather elf-like. Therefore, although dissimilar from modern incarnations of Santa Claus, this St. Nicholas very closely resembles the original St. Nicholas described in the poem.

The Night Before Christmas (1998) 1 The Night Before Christmas (1998) 2

The Night Before Christmas (1984)

The Night Before Christmas (1984) from Ideals Children’s Books features Currier and Ives style Americana illustrations. The St. Nicholas in this version is very jolly with a twinkle in his eye and dimples on his cheeks. However, he has lost is elfishness, no longer resembling a peddler, instead reflecting an entirely contemporary notion of Santa Claus. He is the Coca Cola Santa dress in a red suit with snow white trim. He is fairly tall and robust. Although definitely inspired by the original poem, this St. Nicholas is more Santa Claus than the St. Nicholas of the Romantic Era.

The Night Before Christmas (1984) 1 The Night Before Christmas (1984) 2

The Night Before Christmas (1997)

The Night Before Christmas (1997) with illustrations by Ruth Sanderson features a wizened St. Nicholas who is a perfect mix of classic and contemporary. His face is very wrinkled, definitely closer to little old peddler than the more formidable modern Santa Claus. His suit is red with white trim that is grayish, presumably from ashes and soot. His eyes, although not very bright, still twinkle with merriment. This St. Nicholas is neither completely old-fashioned nor entirely modernized. He is a blend of the classic St. Nick described in the original poem and the modern incarnation of the Coca Cola Santa Claus.

The Night Before Christmas (1997) 1 The Night Before Christmas (1997) 2

The Night Before Christmas: A Visit from St. Nicholas (1999)

The Night Before Christmas: A Visit from St. Nicholas (1999) with illustrations by Max Grover goes one step further in illustrating St. Nicholas with an identification chart for recognizing Santa. The drawings illustrated each detail from the original poem, from the fur to the ashes and soot and from the twinkly eyes to a nose like a cherry. This St. Nicholas is pretty darn close to the original text. He still maintains a modern flair while remaining true to the description in the poem.

The Night Before Christmas: A Visit from St. Nicholas (1999) 1 The Night Before Christmas: A Visit from St. Nicholas (1999) 2

The Night Before Christmas (1994)

The Night Before Christmas (1994) with illustrations by Julie Downing offers a fairly modern imagining of Santa Claus that still maintains many of the details from the original poem. This St. Nicholas is a little too tall for the elf-like man portrayed originally. However, his fur suit becomes covered in ashes and soot after he plummets down the chimney. His face also accurately reflects the description in the poem twinkling blue eyes, a cherry red nose, and merry dimples.

The Night Before Christmas (1994a) 1 The Night Before Christmas (1994a) 2

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (1994)

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (1994) with illustrations by Mike Artell offers a more comic book incarnation of Santa Claus. However, despite the more modern illustration style, St. Nicholas remains true to the original poem. His fur suit is visibly dirtied with ashes and soot from sliding down chimneys. He is merry and jolly with twinkling eyes and a cherry red nose. He is also short and rather elf-like in appearance, a perfect mix of classic St. Nicholas and modern Santa Claus.

The Night Before Christmas (1994b) 1 The Night Before Christmas (1994b) 2

The Night Before Christmas (2002)

The Night Before Christmas (2002) with illustrations by Mary Engelbreit features the unique illustration style of the prolific graphic artist and children’s illustrator. Wearing a red argyle jacket with white fur trim and a red polka dot hat, this St. Nicholas possesses a modern flair. His facial features still reflect the original text with twinkling blue eyes and dimpled cheeks. He is also short and plump with a jolly, elf-like look and demeanor. However, his clothing never appears at all tarnished with ashes and soot. Although based on the original St. Nicholas, he is more modern Santa Claus than classic peddler.

The Night Before Christmas (2002) 1 The Night Before Christmas (2002) 2

The Night Before Christmas (1995)

The Night Before Christmas (1995) with illustrations by Ted Rand features a St. Nicholas who embodies the description in the poem while reflecting modern ideas of the mythical Santa Claus. He wears the typical red and white suite tied with a black belt. When he first descends the chimney, he emerges visibly covered in black ashes and soot. His face reminds me strikingly of the Coca Cola version of Santa. Regardless, true to the original text, his blue eyes twinkle, his cheeks dimple, his mouth draws up, and his nose glows cherry red. This Santa Claus is a modern embodiment of the classic St. Nicholas.

The Night Before Christmas (1995) 1 The Night Before Christmas (1995) 2

Do you have a favorite version of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas?

Image Credits

The Night Before Christmas (1989) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (1989) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas: A Visit from St. Nicholas (2008) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas: A Visit from St. Nicholas (2008) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas: A Michael Hague Pop-up Book (1981) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas: A Michael Hague Pop-up Book (1981) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (1980) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (1980) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (1998) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (1998) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (1984) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (1984) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (1997) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (1997) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas: A Visit from St. Nicholas (1999) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas: A Visit from St. Nicholas (1999) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (1994a) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (1994a) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (1994b) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (1994b) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (2002) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (2002) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (1995) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (1995) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson


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