Picturing The Night Before Christmas: Various Illustrative Interpretations of the Beloved Christmas Poem (1862-1931)

Arthur Rackham book illustrations book illustrators classic literature Elizabeth MacKinstry Golden Age Illustration Golden Age Illustrators Golden Age of Illustration Jessie Wilcox Smith W. W. Denslow

Note: This blog entry originally appeared on our pre-launch blog on December 13, 2018.

"'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."

Pretty evocative, isn't it? I dare you to read the whole poem and tell me it hasn't conjured up some type of imagery in your head! I bet you can't. That's what makes this poem so memorable!

But incidentally, this also happens to be why this poem lends itself so well to illustration. There have been countless illustrated editions of this poem since it's publication in 1823, and while some are more easily recognizable than others, it goes without saying that they pretty much run the gamut. No matter what your stylistic preferences are, there's an edition for you--or even more than one! In our family Christmas box, we have several different editions, including (my personal favorite) a 1984 edition with very detailed and whimsical drawings by Anita Lobel. (As a very young child, I enjoyed it because of the faint and barely visible faces she drew on the moon.)



Illustration by Arthur Rackham (circa. 1931)

The poem itself, while evocative enough to spawn a plethora of illustrated editions, was also evocative enough to accomplish much more. At the time of its publication, New Years' was the family holiday of choice, while, owing to heavy Protestant criticism, Christmas took a backseat. It was The Night Before Christmas that cemented the idea of Christmas as a family holiday into the American psyche, and it's remained there ever since. In fact, our tradition of putting the kids to bed on Christmas Eve while waiting for St. Nick to leave all kinds of goodies under the tree was influenced in a major way by this poem. [Source: BooksTellYouWhy.com]

And now let's take a look at some illustrations and graphics from various noteworthy editions of this poem.

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W. W. Denslow (1902) Denslow is best known for illustrating L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz".

"He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf" (Illustration from an 1862 edition)

"He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf" (Illustration by Jessie Wilcox Smith, 1912)

"His eyes, how they twinkled." (Illustration by Arthur Rackham, circa. 1931)

There is a product in our store that is stylistically similar to the image above. Check it out here. (Available in the U. S. only.)

Illustration from 1896 (illustrator unknown)

"In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there" (1928, illustration by Elizabeth MacKinstry)

There is a product in our store that is stylistically similar to the image above. Check it out here.



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