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'The Night Before Christmas'

For our second Firefly Christmas Advent treat, Ruth Morgan, author of Alien Rain, shares her favourite poem she likes to share at Christmas...

Here’s my tribute to the famous Christmas poem 'The Night Before Christmas' by Clement C Moore, which as a young child was my story of choice all year round. This was, above all others, the book that got read again and again over months and years, at least once every 24 hours and on the hottest day in July as well as during the Christmas season, between the ages of about 3 and 6.  

My precious ‘Whitman Pillow Book’ version published in 1963 is so called because the cover is plumped out with what feels like some sort of light but sturdy inner foam and in those days, it felt deliciously comfortable in my eager little hands. The illustrations by Florence Sarah Winship are still delightful. It’s my Dad’s renditions I particularly remember because he was so good at big, suspenseful build ups ('As I drew in my head and was turning around…') and huge, crashing surprises ('DOWN THE CHIMNEY Saint Nicholas…came…with…a…BOUND.') It was a masterclass in how to read a story aloud and not surprisingly, for in his role as auctioneer running the mart in Llandovery, I saw him give larger than life, witty and polished public performances.

  

I’m afraid I wasn’t as satisfied when I took the book into school, desperate for my beloved teacher to read it to the class. Her reading wasn’t half as spirited and worse, she hesitated before saying the word ‘belly’, which I hadn’t realised was at all offensive and changed it to ‘tummy’, so now Santa 'had a broad face and a round little tummy /That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly'. I felt so short changed. And embarrassed because now I felt earmarked as the child who enjoyed books containing rude words. She was normally a lovely teacher and this, an unfortunate episode but in the long term, it didn’t spoil my love of the poem. As a teacher myself, whenever I get the wonderful chance to read 'The Night Before Christmas' to children at Christmas time, I remember my Dad’s captivating performances and give my rendition the full ‘belly’!