How 'Twas the Night Before Christmas Became a Holiday Icon

Download our free 'Twas the Night Before Christmas PDF and learn about how this 200-year-old poem influences how we celebrate today.

Updated October 31, 2023
Mother and child reading a story by the Christmas tree

"'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house..." Is any opening line of a poem more evocative of childhood holiday excitement than that one? 

The poem A Visit From St. Nicholas was originally published on December 23, 1823 — and children have had visions of sugarplums dancing in their head ever since. So it might be surprising to know that the poem isn't without its controversy. From disagreements over authorship to changing the names of reindeer to how much the poem's imagery has shaped how Americans think of Santa and his activities, there's lots to learn about this beloved piece of holiday history. 

So before you settle in to read our 'Twas the Night Before Christmas printable to your loved ones, find out all the details about what makes this centuries-old poem so iconic and enduring. 

Free Printable of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas

Get ready to snuggle up with your nearest and dearest for a traditional reading of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, because we've got a free PDF copy that you can download. Just click on the image below and save the pdf file to your computer. If you run into any problems, you can use a detailed guide to Adobe printables.

History of "A Visit From St. Nicholas"

In 1823, the Troy Sentinel published the poem A Visit From Saint Nicholas. It was published anonymously, and the real author has been a controversy ever since. Years after the poem was first published, Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863) admitted he'd penned the popular Christmas poem and included it in one of his books of poetry. One story claims Moore's housekeeper sent the charming poem to be published, since Moore was rather embarrassed by it when compared to his more serious works. 

However, the real author of the poem, according to his children, was Major Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828), one of Dr. Moore's friends. The children claimed Livingston had first recited his poem to them in 1807 and in the many years afterwards. Livingston was known for publishing his poems anonymously or under the lone letter "R".

According to the Poetry Foundation, Don Froster of Vassar college declared Livingston was the true author in his 2000 book, Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous. Years later, Moore is still credited as the original author who was inspired to pen the poem while on a winter sleigh ride to go shopping.

Depending on who you ask, the chances of Moore being the author vs Livingston typically splits evenly down the middle. Each side claims forensic evaluations prove in favor of their poet. However, Moore has been credited for the poem since the mid-1800s, and his name is the one most commonly associated with it.

Title & Name Changes 

Over the years, the title of the poem evolved into The Night Before Christmas and 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. The names of Santa's reindeer, Donner and Blitzen, are reportedly not what they were called in the original version of the poem. Instead, they were called the Dutch words Dunder (thunder) and Blixem (lightning), which were later changed to Donner and Blitzen for better poetic rhyming.

Classic Poem and Contemporary Symbolism

The catchy wording, vivid imagery, and memorable lines of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas had a huge influence on how we perceive Santa Claus today. Many details included in the poem were not part of mainstream America's Christmas celebration at the time it was written, but today they are built in to how we celebrate. 

Before the poem, nobody knew about Santa and his flying reindeer. As the poem became more widely distributed, its symbolism became integral to the American Christmas celebration, and today it's a Christmas given that Santa and his reindeer visit every home on Christmas Eve.

Another iconic imagery that Moore created in his poem is Santa's eight flying reindeer. Not only did Moore introduce the fantastical flying reindeer, but he gave each of them a name, much the same way a family names a pet. This made the poem more personal and beloved.

A Beloved Holiday Classic

It's incredible how much a simple poem from 200 years ago has worked its way into how we celebrate Christmas today. With its classic rhymes and vivid imagery, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas deserves its place in Christmas history, and in our hearts. 

How 'Twas the Night Before Christmas Became a Holiday Icon