Across fourteen chapters, Pamela McColl takes a deep dive into the story–indeed, stories – behind The Night Before Christmas, the poem that is now firmly embedded in our collective consciousness. In the first chapter, the author paints a broad picture of the background to the poem, which was originally called A Visit from St Nicholas. The reader soon learns that the publication of this book is very timely – it coincides with the bicentenary of the poem’s recited debut on Christmas Eve 1822, followed by its initial printing a year later. The poem that has delighted children for nigh on two centuries appears to have a lively and frequently edited past. McColl outlines the controversy behind the poem’s authorship as well as illuminating the cultural history of this seasonal favorite.
The poem’s appeal to children is made clear from the outset, with the author pointing to the tone and rhythm of the verse, and giving an insight into the benevolence that underpins the content. McColl explains that TWAS THE NIGHT differs from previous representations of St Nicholas due to the absence of punishment: we learn that earlier portrayals depict the great man as wielding a birchen rod and passing judgment on children’s behavior. Such explanations are supported by thorough scholarship and literary excerpts, as well as a proliferation of glorious images, accurately described in the book as a ‘treasure trove of vintage illustrations’. It is clear that McColl has extensively researched her subject over a lengthy period of time; her enthusiasm for this poem also shines through in her impassioned prose.
One of the many delightful aspects of this book is its organization, which helpfully enables the reader to ‘dip in’ at will. For example, should one wish to find out more about Clement Clarke Moore, the man credited with writing the poem, then there is a whole chapter dedicated to him. The chapter entitled ‘The Enchanted Past’ is particularly enlightening, as well as being entertaining. From start to finish, reading this book is a little like being escorted on a magical journey through time, with minutiae of detail and accompanying visuals at every juncture. Children, of course, will love the carefully curated illustrations, while adults will appreciate the breadth and depth of research that has gone into the making of this book. History enthusiasts will undoubtedly prize the skillful assembling of such a wide range of source material, resulting in a coherent story of the poem’s life. Each source is clearly referenced for the reader’s benefit.
Pamela McColl’s TWAS THE NIGHT: The Art and History of the Classic Christmas Poem, is packed full of vintage illustrations and lesser known historical details that make the book a bundle of perennial joy, for believers and non-believers alike.
~Amanda Ellison for IndieReader