(c) Lyn Fenwick, "Not a Creature Was Stirring"
Many of my friends read "T'was the Night Before Christmas" aloud to their families on Christmas Eve, a beautiful tradition that dates back to 1823. When I was deciding what to contribute to the Vernon Filley annual Holiday Festival, I decided it would be fun to do my own illustration for that beloved poem.
Over the decades, many illustrators have created their own versions of this poem, and I love their illustrations. However, I chose my own setting to depict the lines, "Not a creature was stirring." One thing I learned is that doing portraits of children with their eyes closed is a challenge, since so much personality comes from a person's eyes, especially children.
Like so many things, it seems, there is a controversy behind this poem. The author is generally believed to be Clement Clarke Moore, a writer and Professor of Oriental and Greek Literature, as well as Divinity and Biblical Learning. It is believed that he wrote the poem for his children, and a friend submitted it to the Troy, New York Sentinel, in which newspaper it was published anonymously on December 23, 1823. Moore was reluctant to claim authorship, believing it was inconsistent with his scholarly reputation, but several sources had already identified him as the author when he finally included it in an anthology of his work in 1844.
The controversy about authorship did not come from the other alleged author, but rather from that man's family. Major Henry Livingston, Jr., a New Yorker of Dutch and Scottish ancestry, and a remote relative of Moore's wife, is believed by his family and at least one document dealer, to be the true author, although Major Livingston never made that claim during his life. Surely a professor of the Bible would not have falsely claimed authorship, would he? Perhaps the verse had an oral history that Moore refined, making it his own. After all these years, who knows?
I added the "Elf on the Shelf" to my pastel, a more modern story, which dates to the publication in 2005 of a book by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell, illustrated by Coe Steinwart. The plot describes an elf that gets his magic when a child names and loves him, and with that magic he is able to fly to the North Pole during the night to advise Santa about whether his child has been good or bad that day. He returns before the family awakens and hides in a new spot. Frankly, it seems to me a little ungrateful that the Elf who gets his magic from the child who loves him becomes a spy, don't you think?
Of course, children without an Elf on the Shelf know from the familiar song that they "better watch out, they better not pout" because Santa already "knows if you've been good or bad, so be good for goodness sake." Atlantic columnist Kate Tuttle believes that the Elf teaches a bad lesson to children, teaching them "that good behavior equals gifts." Another writer, Professor Laura Pinto, suggests the toy conditions the next generation to be more accepting of government surveillance, having learned as a child to accept being monitored by the Elf. Who knew holiday poems and toys could be so controversial?!
All that I know for sure is that my mother had felt elves that she used to decorate our home in the 1960s, well before the publication of the elf on the shelf. I don't believe, however, that Mother's elves were spies! What I do believe is that families create their own stories and traditions, and I hope your holidays are filled with joy.