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'Night Before Christmas' Retrial Finds Poem Misattributed

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on December 18, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

After last year's mock trial to determine the true author of the Christmas poem "An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas" ended in a hung jury, the City of Troy, New York decided to retry the case again this year.

Following the mock retrial, a six-member jury selected randomly from the crowd in attendance was asked to choose which of two possible candidates was in fact the author of the anonymously published poem, which famously begins with the line "'Twas the night before Christmas."

What were the jury's choices, and who did the jurors ultimately decide was the poem's true author?

Biblical Scholar or Gentleman Farmer?

Both the original trial and this year's retrial are based on a nearly 200-year-old feud between the families of two men credited with authorship of the poem, according to a press release. The poem was originally published in 1823 in the Troy Sentinel newspaper. Years later a wealthy Biblical scholar from Manhattan named Clement Clark Moore claimed that he had authored the poem and has been widely credited as the poem's author ever since.

But the family of a Hudson Valley farmer named Henry Livingston Jr. has claimed that he was the true author of the poem. The family's claims were bolstered by a recent book on the poem written by a literary forensics expert from Vassar College.

Attorneys, Supreme Court Justice Took Part in Proceedings

Although the proceedings in the mock trial -- which featured actors playing ghosts -- certainly strayed far from the rules of procedure normally required of civil trials, both sides were represented by practicing attorneys acting as counsel for descendants of both purported authors. The trial was also presided over by retired New York State Supreme Court Justice Edward O. Spain.

Ultimately, the jury unanimously found that Livingston was the true author of the poem. A proclamation by the town's mayor honoring Livingston will be presented at a ceremony this week.

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