The Night Before Christmas
Poem by Clement Clark Moore
Illustrations by Jan Brett
Tenth Anniversary Edition (2008)
'Twas the night before Christmas,
when all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring,
not even a mouse.
Thus starts the famous Clement Clark Moore's poem full of cherished images of old-fashioned Christmas.
The illustrations and interpretation by Jan Brett are so full of detail, telling a story within the story, that it is hard to get through this book in any hurried pace.
The title page starts us off with lavish images of bustling activity where Santa's sleigh is being loaded and the reindeer are preened and readied, while a couple of stowaway elves hiding under the furs at the back of Santa's sleigh peek out daring us to give them away.
Icy conifers and clumps of snow on bare tree branches surrounding the Victorian-style mansion with icicles hanging down the sides, Santa's sleigh far away up in the sky and fast approaching, a cat cuddled up on an ornate chair, a dog sleeping out in the icy dog house, and a window into a sleeping child's restful state all set the stage for a beautiful scene about to unfold in the next few pages.
The father watches as the miniature sleigh, pulled by eight tiny reindeer and a little old driver, lands with quite a clatter, then rises up to the top of the porch, and then on to the roof they go, and before he knows it, St. Nick comes bounding down the chimney, carrying a sack on his back looking almost like a peddler selling his wares.
The tree by the chimney is decked to the gills with precious little ornaments as St.Nick goes about stuffing the stockings and attending to his work and then springs to his sleigh and off he goes.
The poem is charming and simplistic, rich with descriptions, carving out a tiny slice of life portrayal of the events that transpires on a particular wintry night.
While I didn't grow up with Santa Claus and Christmas in the classic celebratory version I've come to learn about, I did know him as "Christmas Thaathaa" (Grandfather Christmas) and liked the concept of a jolly old grandfather-figure distributing presents to kids - simply for being a kid, a good kid - just because he liked to.
Whether we believe in old Saint Nicholas in the North Pole, or his elfin toy-makers, or his Naughty-or-Nice list, or his fantastic sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, these images conjure up warmth and cheer and pure goodwill that it is no surprise that they are still adored and embraced around the world and are here to stay for a long time.
As a simple tradition, we started reading The Night Before Christmas to my daughter (illustrated by Tasha Tudor) from her first year, even if she was too little to sit through it. I only bring it out in December each year, and we read it to our heart's content and then put it away till next year, to help keep the magic fresh.
But now, at 4½, she has become quite aware of the imagery surrounding the season - call it the Holiday Season, or the Winter Solstice celebration or to keep it simple, Christmas - that it is quite a pleasure to pore over Jan Brett's rich and playful interpretation, with reindeer of regal bearing out in white cold winter mingling with the red and orange tones indoors conjuring up warmth and comfort...
Each double-page spread is quite a visual treat that, this year, when I brought it out a few days ago, after almost a year in hibernation, the book instantly exercised its charm, setting the mood for the season.
The tenth anniversary edition has a note from Jan Brett and a shiny red foil border jacket that makes it festive.
*Picture courtesy www.janbrett.com
[Written for Saffron Tree]