On December 23, 1823 a poem titled A Visit from St Nicholas was printed anonymously in the Troy, New York Sentinel.
Popularly known by its opening line “Twas the Night Before Christmas”, the poem was widely reprinted and authorship eventually assigned to Clement Clarke Moore.
It became one of the most familiar verses in American literature and had a great influence on the popular image of St Nicholas, AKA Santa Claus (see my post on Illustrators’ visions of Santa Claus and related posts below).
The poem has become an iconic bit of Americana and has been redone and referenced in many ways by various writers and artists, including a wonderfully loopy version by comics genius Walt Kelly.
In 1912, a book version of the poem was published with illustrations by the prominent American illustrator Jessie Willcox Smith.
The book is in the public domain and a full version is available on Project Gutenberg.
The Project Gutenberg reproductions of Smith’s illustrations are a bit on the dark side; I’ve taken the liberty of brightening them somewhat in the versions above.
The book is still in print in a recent version from Loki’s Publishing under the title Twas the Night Before Christmas, though the original title made reference to the original poem: Twas the Night Before Christmas: A Visit from St. Nicholas.
I love Smith’s interpretation of the Jolly One as quite small (“…a right jolly old elf”) and dressed in a rough dark suit and cap — more practical for driving a reindeer-pulled sleigh in the far northern reaches (grin).
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”
Twas the Night Before Christmas,, Amazon link
Previous related posts:
Jessie Willcox Smith
Walt Kelly's A Visit from St. Nicholas
Illustrator's Visions of Santa Claus
Haddon Sundblom’s Santa Claus Illustrations
More Haddon Sundblom Santas
Haddon Sundblom's Santa Claus illustrations
Old Kris by N.C. Wyeth
3 Replies to “Twas the Night Before Christmas: A Visit from St. Nicholas illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith”
Thanks for posting this, I love to learn about famous illustrations and how they came to be. I’ve been hearing Project Gutenberg mentioned in different places, recently. I read a drawing essay by an artist named Speed that was published through them. You have so many inspiring resources listed on your blog! Merry Christmas!
The Practice and Science of Drawing, Harold Speed. My post here. The Internet Archive is another great resource for public domain books.
Merry Christmas Charley and thanks for all your great posts over the last year.
Your dedication is relentless and appreciated by many.
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