Friday, December 24, 2010

The Night Before Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas and I was wondering what to post for Bytes.

Clement Clarke Moore’s poem “A Visit from St Nicholas”, the well known classic that begins with the words " 'Twas the night before Christmas",  was first published (anonymously) in 1823. Despite his other accomplishments (he was a professor of Oriental and Greek literature, a professor of Biblical learning, the compiler of a two volume Hebrew dictionary and a noted philanthropist), he is today best remembered for that poem.

The poem redefined how people saw Christmas and Santa Claus, not just in the US but worldwide. Before 1823 images of Santa Claus and Christmas varied widely. Moore’s poem introduced and standardised images of Santa’s physical appearance, the night of his visit, his mode of transportation, the number and names of his reindeer and the tradition that he brings toys to children.

There is another poem that begins with the same words and closes with a stanza that is a variation of Moore’s final verse:

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

That other poem, Merry Christmas, My Friend, is cheesy (defined in The Urban Dictionary as sentimental, maudlin, melodramatic, corny), literary quality is quite lacking and the message is questionable, but nonetheless I confess that I am a sucker for those types of things. Besides, life would be pretty dull if we only read Shakespeare.

The poem was written by Lance Corporal James M Schmidt in 1996 whilst a Marine stationed in Washington DC. Schmidt wrote the poem when his barracks was getting ready for Christmas inspection and he hung it on the door of the gym. Corporal Schmidt's colonel read it and distributed copies, then had it published in the Marine Corps Gazette. In 1991 it was published in another Marine Corps publication, Leathernecks, and from there became an item often published in the US at Christmas.

There are various versions and adaptations, this is the original:
Merry Christmas, My Friend

'Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone,
In a one-bedroom house made of plaster and stone.
I had come down the chimney, with presents to give
and to see just who in this home did live.

As I looked all about, a strange sight I did see,
no tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand.
On the wall hung pictures of a far distant land.

With medals and badges, awards of all kind,
a sobering thought soon came to my mind.
For this house was different, unlike any I’d seen.
This was the home of a U.S. Marine.

I’d heard stories about them, I had to see more,
so I walked down the hall and pushed open the door.
And there he lay sleeping, silent, alone,
Curled up on the floor in his one-bedroom home.

He seemed so gentle, his face so serene,
Not how I pictured a U.S. Marine.
Was this the hero, of whom I’d just read?
Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?

His head was clean-shaven, his weathered face tan.
I soon understood, this was more than a man.
For I realised the families that I saw that night,
owed their lives to these men, who were willing to fight.

Soon around the Nation, the children would play,
And grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day.
They all enjoyed freedom, each month and all year,
because of Marines like this one lying here.

I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone,
on a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home.
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye.
I dropped to my knees and I started to cry.

He must have awoken, for I heard a rough voice,
“Santa, don’t cry, this life is my choice
I fight for freedom, I don’t ask for more.
My life is my God, my country, my Corps.”

With that he rolled over, drifted off into sleep,
I couldn’t control it, I continued to weep.

I watched him for hours, so silent and still.
I noticed he shivered from the cold night’s chill.
So I took off my jacket, the one made of red,
and covered this Marine from his toes to his head.

Then I put on his T-shirt of scarlet and gold,
with an eagle, globe and anchor emblazoned so bold.
And although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride,
and for one shining moment, I was Marine Corps deep inside.

I didn’t want to leave him so quiet in the night,
this guardian of honour so willing to fight.
But half asleep he rolled over, and in a voice clean and pure,
said “Carry on, Santa, it’s Christmas Day, all secure.”

One look at my watch and I knew he was right,
Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi and goodnight.
Wrong on so many levels, doesn't scan in parts and it's unashamedly jingoistic, but I like it.

1 comment:

  1. This is one Santa who doesn't need a Moorish sidekick, he's plenty creepy on his own.

    Merry Christmas Otto =)


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