Fredericton / Blog / 201912 / Twas the Night Before Christmas – Fredericton’s Connection

Twas the Night Before Christmas – Fredericton’s Connection

Twas the Night Before Christmas is a classic seasonal poem, but did you know that visions of sugar plums danced in the heads of sleepy children in Fredericton long before the verse became an annual Christmas tradition for households across North America?

The poem, also known as A Visit from St. Nicholas, was written by Clement Clarke Moore in 1822. Moore was the godson of Jonathan Odell, a well-known Loyalist clergyman, surgeon, poet, and the first provincial secretary of New Brunswick whose name survives even today in Fredericton’s Odell Park. Originally from New York, he fled the state and moved to Fredericton as a refugee of the American Revolution.  Over the years, Moore and the Odell family stayed in touch.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Because of these close ties, it is easy to imagine Moore sharing his festive rhyme with the Odell children, one version of which was immortalized by Odell’s daughter Mary in a handwritten copy found in the New Brunswick Museum Archives. Likely influenced by Fredericton’s snow-white winters and colourful Victorian Christmas traditions of the day, Moore’s storytelling would have gotten young Mary and her siblings excited for the Christmas season – conjuring up images of flying reindeer, a sack full of toys, and Santa’s iconic outfit, jolly disposition and chubby appearance. It also immortalized the names of Santa's eight tiny reindeer…all except for Rudolph who wasn’t added to the roster until later in the 20th century.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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It is believed that Mary’s copy was based on an early version of the poem, and it may have even been re-written by memory due to instances of crossed-out and corrected words. Her version of the poem is slightly different from more modern ones, with unique word forms and differences in punctuation. Also, the reindeers “Donner and Blitzen” appear in the Odell version as “Donder and Blixen”, and the names of some of the reindeer are reordered.

Mary and the other Odell children may have enjoyed one of the earliest readings of Twas the Night Before Christmas, but the poem’s broad appeal has ensured its ongoing popularity and made it a holiday favourite for families everywhere ever since.

With one of St. Nicholas’ first sleigh stops right here in Fredericton, is it any wonder that kids in the capital city have been excitedly waiting for him to come down the chimney each Christmas Eve for the last two hundred years?