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Favorite Holiday Stories


[The children were nestled all snug in their beds], Digital ID 1704163, New York Public Library[The children were nestled all snug in their beds], Digital ID 1704163, New York Public LibraryThis week at Mixed Bag: Story Time for Grown-Ups I read aloud two holiday classics, The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore and the first part of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, which is enitled Marley's Ghost. While researching the background for these two readings, I discovered some interesting details.

The familiar poem,The Night Before Christmas, was first published on December 23,1823 in the Sentinel newspaper in Troy, New York. The popular concept of today's Santa Claus in America and around the world primarily derives from the text of this poem. It was first published anonymously under the title “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Clement Clarke Moore (1779 – 1863), born in New York City in the area called Chelsea, supposedly wrote this poem for his children on Christmas Eve 1822. However, his name did not appear as the author until 1837, and based on the writing style of his earlier works, there is some question that he is the actual author.

Another possible author is Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828), also a native New Yorker born in Poughkeepsie. Livingston's children claimed the poem was written for them in 1808. Since the original document was destroyed in a fire, they could not prove their claims. Recent literary analysis by Don Foster, an expert in the field of anonymous text attribution from Vassar College, in his book Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous, he shows that based on comparing the writing styles and literary influences of Moore and Livingston, Livingston is the more likely author.

The full text of the poem is available online at several sites including this one. Another site has illustrated editions from 1840 to 1917.

There have been more parodies of this poem than any other in the English language. Consider, for example, A Dieter's Night Before Christmas, Ernest Hemingway's Night Before Christmas, The Night Before Chanukkah, and A Star Trek's Night Before Christmas. Here is a link to some popular parodies. Copies of The Annotated Night Before Christmas: A Collection of Sequels, Parodies, and Imitations of Clement Moore's Immortal Ballad about Santa Claus are available at NYPL.

Marley's ghost appearing to Scrooge., Digital ID 834595, New York Public LibraryMarley's ghost appearing to Scrooge., Digital ID 834595, New York Public LibraryA Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Readers world-wide are familiar with the character of stingy Ebenezer Scrooge, whose cranky response to “Merry Christmas!” was always “Bah, humbug!” I read the first part of the popular novella where Scrooge is visited by Jacob Marley's ghost on Christmas Eve.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was an English novelist, arguably considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens is best known for creating memorable characters such as Ebenezer Scrooge, Mr. Micawber, and Uriah Heep. Dickens began writing A Christmas Carol in October 1843 and finished it in six weeks. It was first published on Dec. 17, 1843, was sold out by Christmas Eve 1843, and has never been out of print since.

The story is organized into five chapters, called staves (another word for song stanza) to reflect the verses of the carol in the title. It is set in London on Christmas Eve 1843; all the action takes place on that night. Consequently, to its first readers it was a contemporary story. Dickens subsequently published a Christmas novel every year for the next four years, much like contemporary American author Richard Paul Evans (The Christmas Box, Finding Noel, and The Christmas List.)

In this story, Dickens gave voice to two outlooks that have affected the popular attitude towards Christmas over the years. First of all, he emphasized the secular, family-centered values of the holiday rather than its religious aspects. Secondly, he sounded a warning about the greediness and selfishness of the new breed of businessmen spawned in the Industrial Revolution. The second is probably a reflection from Dickens' personal experience in childhood when his father was put in debtor's prison.

A Christmas Carol has been adapted to stage, film, opera, musical-comedy, radio, television, recordings, cartoons and graphic novels. Its basic plot has been used and/or parodied by various artists from Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse to Jim Henson's Muppets to Doctor Who, George Burns and Mister Magoo, not forgetting, I am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas, a novel by Adam Roberts, and the play A Klingon Christmas Carol. Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of all the adaptations.

Here are some of the most popular versions available at NYPL:

  • A Christmas Carol This 1951 film with Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge is not the earliest movie version, but it is the classic one most baby boomers remember.
  • Scrooge The 1970 musical film starring Albert Finney as Scrooge, score by Leslie Bricusse, features a younger and livelier Scrooge than is usually cast. One of the most popular songs from the film is “Thank You Very Much,” sung by the townspeople when they hear of Scrooge's death during the Christmas Yet to Come segment.
  • A Christmas Carol George C. Scott played Scrooge as an irascible old man psychologically wounded due to his loveless childhood in this 1984 non-musical film.
  • The Muppet Christmas Carol Jim Henson's Muppets are the cast in this 1992 film version. Kermit the Frog plays Bob Cratchit with Michael Caine as Scrooge.
  • A Christmas Carol Patrick Stewart, best known for his role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, plays Scrooge in this 1999 film version.
  • A Christmas Carol This unabridged audio version is read by British actor Jim Dale.

There are many print editions of the book available at NYPL; I read from the one listed below:

  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens; introduction by Anthony Horowitz; illustrations by Mark Pepp. London: Puffin, 2008.

The full text is also available online here.

If you want to learn more about Charles Dickens, there are upcoming lectures at the Schwartzman Building in the South Court.

Looking for more short stories? Mixed Bag is presented every two weeks at Mid-Manhattan at 1:00 pm. Enjoy your lunch while I read you a story.

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