The Paris Review’s offices are close to a small square of green space called Clement Clarke Moore Park, at West Twenty-Second and Tenth Avenue. Moore, a scholar and theologian, owned the piece of land—he donated a large part to the General Theological Seminary, which still stands there—and indeed, his forebears had owned the estate simply known as Chelsea. And of course, Moore’s poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” is essentially responsible for our contemporary notion of Santa Claus: “a right jolly old elf,” drawn by reindeer, who arrives on Christmas Eve to swoop down your chimney. Moore is said to have been inspired by a local Dutch handyman—this 1926 New York Times piece explores the creation legend.
There’s a charming 1968 cartoon that juxtaposes a little light biography with the famous verse. Of all the many “Night Before Christmas” adaptations, it’s probably my favorite, its very stereotypically sixties score notwithstanding. Historically, it’s iffy—and they misspell Moore’s name in the opening credits—but it’s sweet and mildly educational, and it really tries. If I had to give a booby prize, on the other hand, it would go to this 1930s Silly Symphony. It has its moments, and it’s beautiful, but its merits are outweighed by the fact that it features flagrant product placement (a whole regiment of Mickeys in the toy parade), a baby in soot blackface, a fixation with children and dolls’ bare bottoms, and a frankly terrifying Santa Claus given to inappropriate bursts of deranged laughter.
If you want to pay less disquieting tribute, and you’re in New York, you can attend the annual reading of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” at Washington Heights’s Church of the Intercession. After the reading, for more than a hundred years, parishioners have made the lantern-lit walk to lay a wreath on Moore’s grave at Trinity Church Cemetery. Although, really, I think the Dutch handyman deserves a little love—especially given his mistreatment at the hands of Disney.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.