Christmas Eve must read: ‘The Night Before Christmas’
On Christmas Eve, Jim Matarozzo and his granddaughters Dakotah and Mackenzie will cuddle up on the couch with a love-worn copy of “The Night Before Christmas.”
When Jim reads aloud about sugar-plum visions, tiny pawing hooves and a belly that shakes like a bowl full of jelly, it will be another sweet memory connecting generations of the family.
“I just think it’s the magic of Christmas,” said the girls’ mother, Melonie Matarozzo, about the delight of that verse and the tradition of reading it every year.
“It’s just about the magic — bringing the family together.”
Growing up in Casper, Wyo., Melonie said her grandfather and grandmother, Jack and Eva Hubbard, would visit from Indiana every Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, her grandfather would gather the children in the house — family and any friends who happened to be there — and read the poem to them.
“Fast forward to me having kids,” said Melonie, who lives near Collbran. “We lost my grandma, and my grandpa moved out here to Grand Junction.”
He then read to Melonie’s children every Christmas Eve until he passed away a few years ago.
“And now my husband’s father reads to them,” Melonie said. “I’ve been incredibly blessed to have them to read to my daughters.”
Melonie doesn’t see the tradition ending. “I totally see my husband Tony reading to the grandkids someday.”
That charming spy story, with the most reliable of narrators — the father of the house! — has been part of many families’ Christmas Eve traditions since it was first published in 1823 in the Troy Sentinel newspaper in New York.
The Daily Sentinel publishes “The Night Before Christmas” every year on the typically newsy front page, a sentimental tradition in and of itself.
Other Sentinel readers shared their “Night Before Christmas” traditions. Terrie Swank memorized the book when she was 4 or 5 years old. “Now I look at the book every year, pull it out, and read it to myself, wishing my grandbabies were close. Maybe this year I’ll read it to them over Skype,” she said.
“I have an incredible recording of my brother, Scott, reciting it from memory at the ripe old age of 3,” said Suzanne Lavender. Scott now is a professional musician.
Kami Collins’ sister started reading it to her niece when she was just 1 month old.
Krista Carsten’s mother, Dawn, “used to recite it by memory to us when we were little. Then she recited to her grandchildren ... now working on the great-grandchildren!”
There is a very un-jolly debate in recent years about the poem’s authorship. Clement Clarke Moore long was credited as the author, but some think the poem really was written by a distant relative of his, Henry Livingston Jr., based on the tone and structure of the poem, and claims by Livingston’s relatives. The debate hasn’t been settled.
Before this poem, Santa Claus had been depicted in many different ways. The popularity of “The Night Before Christmas” standardized the characterization we think of today: a plump, rosy-cheeked, red-fur-wearing, white-bearded jolly old elf who drives a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer.
It’s thought that Moore based his physical description of Santa Claus on a Dutch handyman he knew, which is why his Santa is rosy-cheeked and rotund, instead of favoring the fourth-century, brown-skinned Greek Saint Nicholas, who also was an inspiration.
As for the poem’s mechanics, it is written in anapestic tetrameter, a breezy meter with two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable (da da DUM da da DUM).
A line of anapestic tetrameter is four of those da da DUMS in a row, tetra meaning “four.” This meter is often used for comic verse (think Dr. Seuss), but not always (think Eminem). The sing-songy meter probably makes “The Night Before Christmas” easier to memorize.
But all the technicalities behind its popularity don’t really matter. What matters is that families look forward to reading this beloved poem every Christmas Eve.
Reading the poem brings those generations together.
And that’s magic.