“Every Christmas for more than 150 years, children have hung their stockings by the chimney with care and learned to thank Clement Clarke Moore for the tradition. Moore, a wealthy Manhattan biblical scholar, went down in history as the man who in 1823 created the American image of Santa Claus as the author of …The Night Before Christmas… But did Moore really write it? In a new study… Don Foster, an English professor at Vassar College and a scholar of authorial attribution, accuses Moore of committing literary fraud.”By David D. Kirkpatrick, NYT
(Note: ESL-Voices posted this 2014)
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: Whose Jolly Old Elf Is That, Anyway?…By David D. Kirkpatrick
“In a new book, Author Unknown, (Henry Holt & Company) Mr. Foster argues that A Visit From St. Nicholas, first published anonymously in a Troy, N.Y., newspaper in 1823, closely matches the views and verse of Henry Livingston Jr., a gentleman-poet of Dutch descent. Livingston, who lived in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., died before Moore was ever named as the poem’s author.
Livingston’s family first noticed the poem’s growing popularity two decades later and has insisted ever since that Livingston wrote it. But without physical evidence these claims came to naught. Last year Mary Van Deusen, Livingston’s seventh-generation descendant and an amateur genealogist, sought Mr. Foster’s help.
Mr. Foster, a well-known literary gumshoe, pioneered the technique of studying the details of a text’s wording and syntax to establish authorship, using computerized archives to look for telltale influences. He is best known for identifying Shakespeare as the author of the anonymous poem Funeral Elegy and the journalist Joe Klein as author of the novel Primary Colors. Mr. Foster has become the Livingston camp’s ardent partisan, frequently comparing Mr. Moore in the book to Dr. Seuss’s Grinch.
His case is still untested by other scholars, but it promises to create a lively debate about a poem that has become an American icon. Whoever wrote it played a formative role in shaping the modern American Christmas, said Stephen Nissenbaum, author of the history The Battle for Christmas (Knopf, 1996). Before 1820 Americans typically pictured St. Nicholas, also known as Santa Claus, as a skinny, stern bishop visiting children to dispense discipline as often as gifts, and not necessarily on Christmas Eve. The poem helped recast St. Nicholas as a jovial elf and turn Christmas into a time for giving gifts to children. Finally, at his family’s behest, in 1844 Moore took credit for the famous poem, including it without fanfare in a collection of his more solemn verses. But not before he checked that the coast was clear,Mr. Foster said.”
HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM ESL VOICES!
Level: Intermediate -Advanced
Language Skills: reading, writing , and speaking.
Time: approximately 2 hours.
Materials: article excerpt, materials from this lesson plan.
Objectives: Students will review the arguments for and against the authorship of the poem The Night Before Christmas and discuss their conclusions. They will also create similar poems, and drawings for this holiday. Students will practice reading, speaking, and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Tasks
Directions: Have learners brainstorm to build a list of all of the words they can think of connected to the terms: Christmas, santa claus, poem.
II. While Reading Tasks
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold (from the article) and use a dictionary, thesaurus, and word chart for assistance.
- Clement Clarke Moore, a wealthy Manhattan biblical scholar.
- Don Foster was an English professor and a scholar of authorial attribution.
- Moore was accuses of committing literary fraud.
- She was Livingston’s seventh-generation descendant.
- Mr. Foster is a well-known literary gumshoe.
- Mr. Foster has become the Livingston camp’s ardent partisan.
- He is known for studying the details of a text’s wording and syntax.
- He uses computerized archives to look for telltale influences.
- The Night Before Christmas has become an American icon.
- The poem helped recast St. Nicholas.
Directions: have students complete the sentences from the article by selecting the correct words or phrases.
1. Clement Clarke Moore has always been credited with___.
a. writing the National Anthem
b. writing the poem, The Night Before Christmas
c. writing a letter to Santa
2. His his authorship was challenged by___.
a. another author
b. Santa Claus
c. English professor Don Foster
3. Moore was a wealthy ___biblical scholar.
4. Better known as___ it became one of the most widely read poems in the world.
a. The Night After Christmas
b. The Evening Before Christmas
c. The Night Before Christmas
5. Don Foster, an ___at Vassar College.
a. English professor
b. English student
c. English writer
6. In a new book,___.
a. A Visit From St. Nicholas
b. Henry Holt & Company
c. Author Unknown
7. Mr. Foster argues that ”A Visit From St. Nicholas,” first published anonymously in a Troy, N.Y.,___.
8. Henry Livingston Jr., was a gentleman-poet of___descent.
9. Livingston, who lived in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., ___before Moore was ever named as the poem’s author.
b. wrote to the newspapers
10. But without ___these claims came to naught.
c. physical evidence
Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- The Livingston’s family first noticed the poem’s growing popularity two decades later.
- Mary Van Deusen was Livingston’s seventh-generation descendant.
- She was also a amateur genealogist.
- Mr. Foster is a well-known literary gumshoe.
- He pioneered the technique of studying the details of a text’s wording and syntax.
- His case is still untested by other scholar.
- Before 1820 American pictured St. Nicholas (Santa Claus) as skinny.
- The poem helped recast St. Nicholas as a jovial elf and turn Christmas into a time for giving gifts to children.
- In Mr. Foster’s account, Moore, owner of an estate covering what is now Chelsea, was too much of a grouch to write such a playful poem.
Directions: In your groups, take the first 2 or 3 lines from the poem The Night Before Christmas, and create new verses. Then have each group present their verses to the class.
“Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house…”
Here are some humorous examples if you like:
Parodies of ‘The Night Before Christmas’ By David Emery,
Examples from David’s site:
A Star Trek Night Before Christmas (I)
‘Twas the night before Christmas on the Enterprise-D,
On a routine short hop to Starbase 03…
A Star Trek Night Before Christmas (II)
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the ship
Not a circuit was buzzing, not one microchip…
A Florida Night Before Christmas
‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the town,
No noses were frozen, no snow fluttered down…
A Programmer’s Night Before Christmas
‘Twas the night before implementation, and all through the house,
Not a program was working not even a browse…
A Gambler’s Night Before Christmas
‘Twas the nite before Christmas, I hit the Casino,
I went there to play, More than just Keno…
An Intellectual Night Before Christmas
‘Twas the nocturnal segment of the diurnal period preceding the annual Yuletide celebration, and throughout our place of residence, kinetic activity was not in evidence among the possessors of this potential, including that species of domestic rodent known as musculus…
A Lawyer’s Night Before Christmas
Whereas, on or about the night prior to Christmas, there did occur at a certain improved piece of real property (hereinafter “the House”) a general lack of stirring by all creatures therein, including, but not limited to a mouse…