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It is the tradition in some American families to read Clement Clarke Moore’s charming seasonal poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” every Christmas Eve.
My own two children were involved in this lovely ritual for many years until they grew a little old for the task to the point where they were rebelling and threatening to join biker gangs. As it happens, the tradition had run its course anyway and now the formal recitation is merely a happy memory for me every Dec. 24.
Nevertheless, the poem always struck me as a bit odd. Not to give voice to my inner Grinch, but I always wondered whether laws were being broken in the spectacular arrival of St. Nicholas. At the very least, the settling of reindeers on roofs — no matter how tiny the coursers and miniature the sleigh — surely offended some statute regarding livestock.
To get to the bottom of it, I believe the TV series “CSI” should do a special show. As you know, “CSI” metastasized into “CSI: NY” and “CSI: Miami.”
What we really need is a “CSI: Yuletide” to find out what really happened on that famous night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. (And what a relief that there was no rodent activity.) Perhaps the investigators on “Cold Case” would be better suited to the job. After all, the alleged crime, if such it was, first came to the public’s attention in 1823.
Now, it may be that things were more relaxed back then and they didn’t have as many laws. Our modern mistake is that we elect so many lawyers to become lawmakers that laws multiply like rabbits. We pretend to be surprised by this, yet the same result naturally occurs when pet rabbit owners add more bunnies to their hutch.
But I have to think the authorities in a straight-laced era would have objected to “the moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow.” The description suggests that someone had been building a snowwoman out on the lawn (where there arose such a clatter) — and a fairly voluptuous one at that. Thank goodness the kiddies never noticed.
I also do not know about the propriety of a right jolly old elf coming down a chimney. In our day, OSHA regulations would certainly be offended. The greater concern is that, even if the stockings had been hung by the chimney with care, did this constitute an invitation or was this a home invasion?
Further, I am concerned that St. Nick may have broken local prohibitions against speeding and making excessive noise. If you recall, “More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,” and all that “Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen! …” was none too considerate of the neighbors.
That shouting may be explained by St. Nick’s demeanor. Not only were his clothes “all tarnished with ashes and soot,” but also “His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!”
Here we have probable cause for concluding that St. Nick had imbibed a little too much Christmas cheer on the trip. If he were stopped by the police today, he would be pulled over and asked to step outside the sleigh and keep his gloves where the officer could see them.
But the indictment against St. Nick gets worse: “The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.” Not only was he driving around spreading secondhand smoke near children, he was “chubby and plump,” a terrible crime today to which I plead seasonally guilty.
To review: St. Nicholas appears to have illegally parked reindeer on roofs and let them roam without the necessary permits, been seen in the vicinity of an indecent lawn display, had driven excessively fast while seemingly several hot toddies over the limit, made a noise and clutter beyond the accepted decibel range, possibly invaded a household and was a fat smoker. Not to mention that, coming from the North Pole, he might have been an illegal alien.
I am not saying he was guilty of anything, OK? I am just saying that a “CSI” or “Cold Case” team should investigate to clear up lingering questions. I am also saying, like he did ‘ere he drove out of sight, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”
(Reg Henry is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. His e-mail address is rhenry(at)post-gazette.com.)