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Who really wrote ‘Twas the night before Christmas’?

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Clement Moore!, you shout. But the descendants of Henry Livingston beg to differ, NBC News reports.

On Wednesday, a mock trial will be held in Troy, N.Y. — where the holiday poem was first published anonymously in the Sentinel newspaper in 1823 — to decide authorship.

The evidence for Livingston, a gentleman farmer from the Hudson Valley and poet of Dutch descent, sounds like it could dash away, dash away, dash away all doubts as to who really wrote the lines that defined the way Americans imagine themselves, and Santa, on Christmas Eve:

  1. Don Foster, an English professor at Vassar College and literary forensics expert, will testify that Moore, a biblical scholar, was a scold — no twinkle in his eyes — unlikely to take the jolly tone of a Visit from St. Nicholas.
  2. Foster notes that the Sentinel’s version of the poem called the last two reindeer “Dunder and Blixem,” Americanized terms for the Dutch “thunder and lightning.”
  3. Poets usually betray a fondness for a particular meter, or beat. In the holiday classic, there are two short syllables followed by the beat on the long, third syllable. Only one or two other poems attributed to Moore are written in anapests.

On the other hand, friends of Moore reported that the scholar recited the poem the year before its publication. The controversy over authorship has been stirring for years. Joe Nickell has picked apart the case for Livingston and his findings will back Moore’s authorship at trial.

Whoever wrote it, I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight — “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

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