Christmas is my favourite time of the year and I am sure I speak for many of you when I say that.
Being born and raised in Washington, D.C. and experiencing my yuletide holidays in the snow with the beautiful lights twinkling all over everyone’s homes, bedecked Christmas trees with fancy glittering balls and bobbles, hearing Christmas music on every radio station and smelling the baking of all kinds of foods and desserts coming from the kitchens in the houses that I visited - that was Christmas to me back then, and now.
Having family and friends come over and visiting others - that was also Christmas to me. Mom was a teacher and dad worked two and sometimes three jobs to pay for travel, food, new clothes, toys and games and all the ‘stuff’ of the holidays, just to make us smile and I will always love them for that.
My siblings and I watched all of the holiday television shows like A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Rest Nosed Reindeer, It’s a Wonderful Life, Frosty the Snowman and Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol and various ballet renditions of The Nutcracker. My sister has all of those old favourites on DVD and I still watch them each time I come to the United States for my holidays.
Growing up in the black community, particularly in the radical late 1960s and 70s, we were well aware that Santa Claus was a European creation. But my parents assured us that ‘Santa’ looked like whatever people wanted him to look like, black or white, American Indian or Asian.
He wasn’t a person, he was a human image of the season of love, laughter, gifts, fun, food and songs, and the stories and poems about him were for fun and entertainment, not legal truth or fact. In our community, whatever ‘Santa’ images we had, were all of a rotund black men with a red suit and white beard and jolly visage.
Needless to say, kids in my hood knew very well that there would be no white man with a white beard coming down a chimney (we didn’t even have a fireplace!) or sneaking any other way into our house to give us free gifts. We were clear that mom and dad worked hard to earn money to buy every single thing we enjoyed.
Throughout my childhood, I loved when my mom regularly read us stories and poems and bought us books of all kinds (including poetry) to read for ourselves as we got older. All of that information helped me imagine what a wonderful, huge world this truly is.
I thought this was a very Christmas setting to share my favourite holiday poem with you.
A Visit from St. Nicholas, by Clement Clarke Moore
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the housetop the coursers they flew
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too—
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
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!”
Clement Clarke Moore's famous poem, which he named "A Visit from St. Nicholas," was published for the first time on December 23, 1823 by a New York newspaper, the Sentinel. Since then, the poem has been reprinted, translated into innumerable languages and circulated throughout the world.