A Visit from St. Nicholas, Part 2

The Night Before Christmas, the beloved holiday poem penned by Clement Clarke Moore, provides what many argue is the first description of Santa Claus, a description still in wide use today.  The lighthearted poem not only describes jolly old St. Nick, but names his eight flying reindeer as well.

Given this story’s popularity throughout the English speaking world, what would it be like if written by another author – an author’s whose writing style and tone were more than a little different than Moore’s?

James Thurber – writer, cartoonist, and satirist – had precisely this thought.  So he wrote an article for The New Yorker that was published on December 24th, 1927, entitled, A Visit from Saint Nicholas (In the Ernest Hemingway Manner).  His description of Santa – one I argued yesterday describes him like a heavy drinker – reads hilariously, as follows:

I stood still and listened.

“What do you hear?”

“Reindeer,” I said. I shut the window and walked about. It was cold. Mamma sat up in the bed and looked at me.

“How would they get on the roof?” mamma asked.

“They fly.”

“Get into bed. You’ll catch cold.”

Mamma lay down in bed. I didn’t get into bed. I kept walking around.

“What do you mean, they fly?” asked mamma.

“Just fly is all.”

Mamma turned away toward the wall. She didn’t say anything.

I went out into the room where the chimney was. The little man came down the chimney and stepped into the room. He was dressed all in fur. His clothes were covered with ashes and soot from the chimney. On his back was a pack like a peddler’s pack. There were toys in it. His cheeks and nose were red and he had dimples. His eyes twinkled. His mouth was little, like a bow, and his beard was very white. Between his teeth was a stumpy pipe. The smoke from the pipe encircled his head in a wreath. He laughed and his belly shook. It shook like a bowl of red jelly. I laughed. He winked his eye, then he gave a twist to his head. He didn’t say anything.

He turned to the chimney and filled the stockings and turned away from the chimney. Laying his finger aside his nose, he gave a nod. Then he went up the chimney. I went to the chimney and looked up. I saw him get into his sleigh. He whistled at his team and the team flew away. The team flew as lightly as thistledown. The driver called out, “Merry Christmas and good night.” I went back to bed.

After reading Thurber’s hilarious Hemingwayesque description of Santa’s Christmas Eve visit, we might now understand what the holiday season was like in say, Soviet Russia.  Regardless, Thurber’s words provide a unique re-telling of a historical and beloved tale known to children everywhere.

As a great admirer of Hemingway’s work, I particularly enjoyed Thurber’s parody.  For those who share my sentiment, you can read the entire piece at The New Yorker,  available via their archives for $5.99.  Or Google it, whichever.

This terse and hard-nosed version of a cheerful childhood classic is best enjoyed alongside a long pour of ice cold vodka.  And a punch in the face.  Because in Hemingway’s world, that’s how you celebrate Christmas.


As an afterthought, I want to note my wife’s amusing observation about this post: later in life, Hemingway himself bore an uncanny resemblance to Ol’ Saint Nick (see below).  That, in addition to their mutual love of the drink.