The other man in the room

Ed Smith
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I have always been puzzled by one thing in "The Night before Christmas."
Now that we are at arm's length, so to speak, from the perpetual and traditional Christmas Eve reciting of that poem, I can look into it a little more freely.
I've been reciting it to my kids every year since the oldest was born, and missed only the Christmas Eve we were in Bermuda. That year, the band leader entertaining hotel guests read it because some of the adults in our family group thought it would be cute. Probably was.
Just as an interesting aside, that poem was written by a fellow named Clement Clarke Moore way back in 1822. I didn't know it was that long ago, but then again I'm woefully ignorant of things like that. Moore's father was president of the college which later became Columbia University.
The elder Moore also participated in George Washington's first inauguration. He gave the last rites to Alexander Hamilton, founding father and a onetime chief of staff to George Washington, when he was mortally wounded in a dual with Aaron Burr. Moore himself was a noted scholar, a Manhattan real estate owner and spoke five languages. Yet he is remembered only for this poem, which he called "A Visit From St. Nicholas."
The story goes that Moore went to Greenwich Village to buy a turkey for his family for Christmas. On his way home, he was wishing he had something to read to his children and composed the much-loved verses we have today. Legend also has it that he patterned the figure of Santa after the short, stout, bearded Dutchman who was driving the carriage. Whatever, that's the image we've had a of St. Nicholas ever since.
It's from this poem that we get the idea there are eight reindeer, what their names are and the exact night of the year Santa actually visits.
Actually, there's been a continuing controversy over the authorship of this poem. It is claimed by some that it was actually written by a Major Henry Livingstone Jr., a distant relative of Moore's wife. Convincing proofs can be trotted out by the supporters of both men.
Whoever wrote it, there are four handwritten copies in existence. Three are in museums. A fourth is in the hands of a private collector who a few years ago paid $280,000 for it. Apart from that, the poem has been translated into innumerable languages and is known in dozens of countries.
Needless to say, someone did a good job with it.
As I said at the beginning, I am greatly puzzled by one thing about "The Night before Christmas" or "A Visit from St. Nicholas" or whatever. I'm more than surprised that no one has picked up on this before.
Who is the third man in that poem?
There is Santa Claus, the person telling the story and a third person. No, it isn't the storyteller's wife. She's upstairs in her bed dreaming or something. This third person is downstairs in the room where Santa Claus is unloading his presents.
Downright creepy, isn't it. The figure is no more substantial than a shadow, and yet the shadow is there. Only the one reference is made to it with no further explanation. I myself picked up on it many years ago and have been trying to figure out ever since just who it could be.
That would mean the person would have to be in the house all along, and the storyteller or writer would have to know about it. It is he, after all, who's giving us the shadowy clue that someone else is there who's not supposed to be there.
It's like walking by a cemetery when you were an adolescent. Your reason told you there was no one there waiting to rise up from a headstone and grab you and haul you down into the ground. You knew the difference and you were determined not to run, not to give in to the irrational fear that rose in your throat and threatened to choke you.
Then, despite your adolescent bravado, your feet betrayed you and broke into a run that would have done credit to any Olympian. Thing was, you knew there was someone or something there and no amount of reason on Earth could tell you differently.
That's how it is with me and "The Night Before Christmas." I know someone is there, but it's taken me a very long time to figure out why and who.
In fact, were it not for the great global warming conference in Copenhagen, I would still be very much in the dark. I am therefore very much indebted to the organizers of that great event. Granted, it was a disappointment to many people, but the fact is Canada came off looking very bad and that's what gave me the ultimate clue.
Canada was given the Colossal Fossil award, indicating that we are among the worst offenders on the face of the Earth in not recognizing our responsibility to the rest of the world to clean up our act, especially with regard to the Alberta tar sands. In that project alone, we are spewing tonnes of pollutants into the air daily.
But is our prime minister worried? Not hardly. His largest base of support is Alberta. Think he's going to upset them by fiddling with their precious economy? Hardly. He can't even muster the will to live up to his Kyoto responsibilities.
And that's when I realized it. I had already deduced that the unseen person in the poem is a jerk.
"He filled all the stockings and turned with a jerk …"
But who could the jerk with Santa Claus be? Then it struck me. A jerk. Climate control. Copenhagen. The colossal fossil. No doubt now as to the identity of the world-class jerk.
Stephen Harper.

Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His e-mail address is

Organizations: Columbia University

Geographic location: Bermuda, Manhattan, Greenwich Village Copenhagen Canada Alberta Kyoto Springdale

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