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The Night Before Christmas: A Classic Holiday Tale, Three Ways

By Zarina Mullan Plath
In December 1823, a New York newspaper published an anonymous poem about a Christmas Eve visit from St. Nicholas, and unwittingly launched a slew of holiday traditions for generations of families. Our traditional image of St. Nick, or Santa Claus - jolly laugh, rosy cheeks, red suit and all - comes directly from that poem (generally credited to Clement Clarke Moore). Furthermore, the ritual of hanging stockings by the fireplace caught on in America after Moore's tale appeared. For many modern families who celebrate Christmas, the holiday isn't complete without reading this classic story at least once. Hundreds of versions of The Night Before Christmas exist, most often distinguished by their illustrative style; here are three new ones worthy of a look this season:

Twas the Night Before ChristmasMatt Tavares's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas takes "Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas" to its roots, using not only the text from the original newspaper publication, but its punctuation and spelling as well. While the language and plot are essentially the same, readers will note a few charmingly antiquated differences from other reprints. For example, the more familiar reindeer names "Donder and Blitzen" were originally "Dunder and Blixem," and "through" is written as "thro'." Tavares's handsome illustrations, rendered in his signature gray pencil, manage to be both soft and precise at the same time. There is also a preface explaining the origins of the poem.

Gennady Spirin's The Night Before Christmas is similarly traditional, retaining the spirit and style of the original tale but with more modern spelling and punctuation. The illustrations are colorful and heartwarming, evoking the spirit of the Christmas season in watercolors and colored pencil. There is a folk-art aesthetic to the book, especially in the recurring image of a grandfather clock adorned with a village scene. Like Tavares, Spirin includes an historical note about Clement Moore.

The Night Before ChristmasThe Night Before Christmas gets a jolt of whimsical modernity in the hands of Richard Jesse Watson. One glance at the endpapers tells you that this isn't your typical Santa story. The elves span all ethnicities and occupations - there's a burly African-American elf with a Santa tattoo, an Asian elf with an origami bird, a dreadlocked elf in Rastafarian colors, and a bearded one with the air of a philosopher, to name a few. Watson depicts Santa as an aviator, and gives us a glimpse at the high-tech dashboard of his sleigh. The colors are richly saturated, and Watson's faces look almost like photos. In keeping with the modern updates, Watson forgoes historical notes in favor of a coffeehouse "Q & A with St. Nick." Some readers may find this treatment of a Christmas classic a bit too silly, while others will delight in Watson's offbeat humor.

Recommended Titles:

'Twas the Night Before Christmas
By Anonymous; Illustrated by Matt Tavares
Candlewick Press

The Night Before Christmas
By Clement Clark Moore; Illustrated by Gennady Spirin
Marshall Cavendish Children

The Night Before Christmas
By Clement C. Moore L.L.D.; Illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson
Harper Collins Children's Books

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