Category: Blog, Librarian Mom|December 7, 2013 6:00 am

Picturing Santa Claus: ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas Volume 3 (Day 7 of 25 Days of Christmas)

25 Days of Christmas

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas is a popular poem during the holiday season. Originally written by Clement Clarke Moore in 1823, the description of St. Nicholas in the poem inspired our modern incarnation of Santa Claus:

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!

As my daughter and I have been reading the ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas in anticipation of Christmas Eve, she and I have been paying close attention to Santa. Yesterday and the day before, I shared the differences between the original St. Nicholas and modern Santa Claus as pictured in a number of editions of the poem published as children’s books. Here are some more of our favorite versions of the poem and my thoughts on each St. Nicholas.

The Night Before Christmas (1999)

The Night Before Christmas (1999) with illustrations by Bruce Whatley offers a more sinister version of St. Nicholas. Although he is extremely elf-like in his facial features, I must admit that this St. Nicholas projects a bit more eeriness than jolliness. His fur suit is dirtied with ashes and soot, but the look on his face in many of the pictures just plain creeps me out. He appears very close to the description in the original text, but he is definitely a more sinister elf than a jolly fat man. But perhaps a man who breaks into your house through your chimney is slightly inherently sinister?

The Night Before Christmas (1999) 1 The Night Before Christmas (1999) 2

The Night Before Christmas (2010)

The Night Before Christmas (2010) with illustrations by Eric Puybaret features a St. Nicholas that reminds me of a character from a Pixar movie. Aside from the modern cartoon style, most striking about this St. Nicholas is the lack of ashes and soot, even immediately after he descends the chimney. However, his facial features accurately reflect the original poem with twinkling eyes, a cherry red nose, and merry dimples. Nevertheless, he is a much more modern Santa Claus than a classic St. Nicholas.

The Night Before Christmas (2010) 1 The Night Before Christmas (2010) 2

The Night Before Christmas (2009)

The Night Before Christmas (2009) with illustrations by Rachel Isadora provides a retelling of the classic poem. Set in Africa rather than Europe or North America, this St. Nicholas is black with long white dreadlocks. The original poem makes no mention of skin color, although the implication of time and place suggests a white Santa. The African St. Nicholas wears a red coat with black and white fur trim and animal-print pants, all harking back to the fur in the original poem. His nose is red like a cherry, his cheeks are dimpled merrily, and his eyes twinkle. He is a definite mix of classic images and contemporary non-Western cultures.

The Night Before Christmas (2009) 1 The Night Before Christmas (2009) 2

The Night Before Christmas (2007)

The Night Before Christmas (2007) with illustrations by Gyo Fujikawa features the work of the prolific children’s author and illustrator. This St. Nicholas is short and plump, closely reflecting the description of a jolly old elf in the original poem. When he first comes down the chimney, his red and white fur suit is visibly dirtied with ashes and soot. His blue eyes twinkle, his nose is red, and his cheeks are dimpled. This imagining of St. Nicholas is almost impish. The illustration style makes me think of the mid-twentieth century, which provides a nice mixture of the classic St. Nicholas and a modern Santa Claus.

The Night Before Christmas (2007) 1 The Night Before Christmas (2007) 2

Pop-up The Night Before Christmas (1967)

Pop-up The Night Before Christmas (1967) with illustrations by Marvin Brehm reflects the colors and cartoon styles of the 1960s. St. Nicholas appears extremely comic-like with a rather silly face. However, his nose is as red as a cherry, his cheeks are dimpled, his mouth is drawn up, and his beard is snow white. The white trim on his suit is dirtied with ashes and soot (although blue rather than black or gray because of the colors of the time period) from sliding down chimneys. This St. Nicholas is definitely a more modern Santa Claus firmly rooted in the style of the decade, although he still maintains many of the features described in the original poem.

Pop-up The Night Before Christmas (1967) 1 Pop-up The Night Before Christmas (1967) 2

The Night Before Christmas: Told in Signed English (1994)

The Night Before Christmas: Told in Signed English (1994) with illustrations by Steve Marchesi features a St. Nicholas that looks more like a peddler than the mythical man of more contemporary imaginings. He wears a suit with brown fur trim, which is more accurate of the furs available in England at the time of the writing of the original poem. His suit also appears slightly tattered, indicative of a working class peddler sliding down chimneys. Also true to the original poem, this St. Nicholas has blue eyes that twinkle, a reddened nose, and dimpled cheeks. Of all the portrayals in the many versions of the poem, he is the most true to the poem, reflecting a peddler St. Nicholas rather than a more modern Santa Claus.

The Night Before Christmas: Told in Signed English (1994) 1 The Night Before Christmas: Told in Signed English (1994) 2

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas: Or, Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas (2002)

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas: Or, Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas (2002) with illustrations by Matt Tavares tells the story of the poem in black and white illustrations. Despite the lack of color, however, St. Nicholas reflects a mixture of classic and modern. His facial features match the description in the original poem down to the mouth drawn up like a bow. Although difficult to determine in black and white, the white trim on his suit appears dirtied with ashes and soot. However, he is a bit larger than the elf-like peddler originally described. This St. Nicholas very much makes me think of the Coca Cola Santa Claus.

'Twas the Night Before Christmas: Or, Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas (2002) 1 'Twas the Night Before Christmas: Or, Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas (2002) 2

The Night Before Christmas (1989)

The Night Before Christmas (1989) with illustrations by John Steven Gurney portrays a rather modern Santa Claus with a more European than American look. This St. Nicholas wears the familiar red suit with white fur trim but also dons a gold shirt underneath. He also wears bells on the tops of his boots, which is a bit too fancy for the peddler described in the original poem. However, his facial features accurately portray the original description with twinkly eyes, dimpled cheeks, a drawn up mouth, and a cherry red nose. This St. Nick is nevertheless a more contemporary Santa Claus than a classic St. Nicholas.

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

The Night Before Christmas (2006)

The Night Before Christmas (2006) with illustrations by Richard Jesse Watson offers a unique imagining of St. Nicholas. Most striking about his appearance is his wardrobe. He is dressed all in fur, but, rather than the traditional red suit with white trim, he wears wacky fluffy white fur pants and a red cloak. His face accurately portrays the original poem with twinkling eyes, dimpled cheeks, and a rosy nose. Differing drastically from the Clement Clarke Moore description, however, this Santa drives a high-tech sleigh and wears and aviator hat and goggles. This St. Nick is definitely more modern Santa Claus than traditional St. Nicholas.

The Night Before Christmas (2006) 1The Night Before Christmas (2006) 1 The Night Before Christmas (2006) 2

Little Critter’s The Night Before Christmas (1992)

Little Critter’s The Night Before Christmas (1992) with illustrations by Mercer Mayer features the lovable character, Little Critter, from the beloved children’s series. This St. Nicholas has a very contemporary appearance. His red suit with white trim lacks the ashes and soot of the original poem. His blue eyes, however, twinkle merrily. He also has the cherry red nose, dimpled cheeks, and drawn up mouth and is quite short and plump. Nevertheless, he is definitely more of a modern notion of Santa Claus than a classic version of St. Nicholas.

Little Critter's The Night Before Christmas (1992) 1 Little Critter's The Night Before Christmas (1992) 2 © 2013

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (2010)

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (2010) with illustrations by Kat Whelan offers an anthropomorphic look at Santa Claus through mouse characters. As a family of mice settles down to sleep, a mouse Santa visits. However, despite the difference in species, the mouse Santa still fairly accurately portrays the St. Nicholas in the original text. As he plummets down the chimney, he sends a plume of ashes and soot into the room. The same ashes and soot cover his red and white fur suit. His face, although a mouse, possesses a cherry red nose, dimpled cheeks, and twinkling eyes. The mouse Santa, although different from the working class peddler in the original poem, still fairly accurately represents the classic St. Nicholas.

'Twas the Night Before Christmas (2010) 1 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (2010) 2

The Grandma Moses Night Before Christmas (1991)

The Grandma Moses Night Before Christmas (1991) with illustrations by Grandma Moses features the paintings of the renowned American folk artist. The St. Nicholas throughout the pages very clearly reflects her folk style of painting. He still wears the red and white fur suit and possesses a long white beard. His facial features, although largely distorted, still project a twinkling merriness as described in the original poem. This St. Nick is very definitely a Grandma Moses Santa Claus who is nonetheless still based off the classic text.

The Grandma Moses Night Before Christmas (1991) 1 The Grandma Moses Night Before Christmas (1991) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson

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

Image Credits

The Night Before Christmas (1999) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (1999) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (2010) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (2010) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (2009) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (2009) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (2007) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (2007) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson
Pop-up The Night Before Christmas (1967) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
Pop-up The Night Before Christmas (1967) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas: Told in Signed English (1994) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas: Told in Signed English (1994) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas: Or, Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas (2002) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas: Or, Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas (2002) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (1989) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (1989) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (2006) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Night Before Christmas (2006) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson
Little Critter’s The Night Before Christmas (1992) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
Little Critter’s The Night Before Christmas (1992) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (2010) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (2010) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Grandma Moses Night Before Christmas (1991) 1 © 2013 Heather Johnson
The Grandma Moses Night Before Christmas (1991) 2 © 2013 Heather Johnson


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