Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Montreal Visit from St Nicholas, 1826

"A Visit from St. Nicholas" was reprinted in the Montreal Gazette on January 4, 1826, with a helpful preface explaining the American Santa Claus to Canadians. 

Amongst the Dutch Americans, St. Nicholas, or, as he is familiarly called, Sainte Claus, is a Christmas visitor, highly esteemed by the juvenile branches of families, who never fail to court the attention of the Saint, by placing their stockings, to receive such donations as this free-hearted patron of good children may in his bounty be pleased to bestow. This innocent superstition is, however, not confined to the Dutch settlers--the children of their neighbours hold the cake-bestowing Saint in equal veneration. Nor is his fame unknown in these Provinces, although he is not often seen, his gingerbread visiting-cards afford his urchin votaries a certain evidence that, whilst they slept, he has paid his annual Christmas call. We leave it to antiquaries to determine his Saintship's origin; and whether the donations made in his name originated in the distribution of sweetmeats and cakes at the Vatican at Rome, on Christmas-eve, or is a remnant of some earlier superstition. Be that as it may, we present the following picture of his garb and equipage, as it has been sketched by an American poet, who was fortunate enough to obtain a glimpse of the jolly old elf. 

This item is not listed in Nancy H. Marshall, The Night Before Christmas, A Descriptive Bibliography of Clement Clarke Moore's Immortal Poem (Oak Knoll Press, 2002). With interesting exceptions, the text of the still-anonymous poem mostly follows the first printing in the Troy Sentinel on December 23, 1823. Dunder remains Dunder, for example, but Blixem has been re-christened Blixen. Also, the whole roll of reindeer names has been metrically improved by rearranging commas and exclamation marks:

“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
“On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Dunder! and Blixen...."

Extending to Comet and company in the second line of the couplet, the revisions to punctuation marks around reindeer names in the Montreal Gazette are even more thorough than similar changes in the Charleston Mercury and other 1826 versions. For more on those, check out the earlier post

Another interesting difference is the addition of "which" as a relative pronoun in the distinctive heroic simile that here in this early Canadian version begins

As dry leaves which before the wild hurricane fly.

The 1823 Troy Sentinel version did not supply any word between "leaves" and "before":

As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly.

Adding "which" makes a regular anapest "which before" in the second metrical foot. In the same line as corrected or revised in the 1844 collection Poems by Clement C. Moore, "that" replaces "which":

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly. 

Santa smokes like a chimney wherever he goes, obviously. But here the é with the acute accent, unique to the Montreal Gazette version, tells readers how to say

"the smoke it éncircled his head like a wreath"
in the province of Quebec.

04 Jan 1826, Wed Montreal Gazette (Montreal, Quebec, Canada)


’Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hope that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads,
And Mama in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap—
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprung from the bed to see what was the matter;
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
“On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Dunder! and Blixen;
“To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves which before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys—and St. Nicholas too:
And then in a twinkling I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a pedlar 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 
√©ncircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jirk,
And laying his finger a side of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
"Happy Christmas to all ! and to all a good night."

-- Montreal Gazette, January 4, 1826


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