Archives for category: Holidays

Salutations à nos amis de France!

After the English-speaking countries (U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia), the Silver Birch Press blog receives most of its visits each day from people in France. Merci pour vos visites!

IMAGE: “La Rue Montorgueil” by Claude Monet (1878).

If you don’t know why people celebrate Cinco de Mayo, here’s a fun, fast way to get a history lesson from a song written and performed by Jonathan Mann. Happy Cinco de Mayo!

An Upstate New York Christmas Poem on Trial
by Jimmy Vielkind (Capital New York)

(Reporting from Troy, New York, 12/24/13)

The attorneys were some of this city’s finest, wearing red hosiery to reflect the spirit of the season. They met in the ceremonial court room here, a capacious square that was once a church, where many of the most colorful cases in the history of this reviving Victorian industrial capital were argued. Two of the witnesses were raised from the dead.

The topic was a fundamental yuletide question: who really wrote “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” the famous poem that first appeared in the Troy Sentinel in 1823 and begins with the famous line, “’Twas the night before Christmas.”

It was anonymous, but conventional history dictates that Clement Clark Moore, a theology professor, was its author. The poem appears in a volume he published in 1844, and his name is even inscribed on a plaque a few blocks from the court house on River Street, where the Sentinel once had its offices.

That convention has long been disputed by descendents of Henry Livingston Jr., a farmer from Dutchess County who died in 1828—before Moore published the poem under his own name. Hoping to leverage a long-simmering historical debate into a popular spectacle, local publicity artist Duncan Crary concocted the idea of the trial, which drew a standing-room-only crowd of hundreds.

“Put what you’ve learned aside. Right this historical wrong,” said Molly Casey, an attorney for the Livingstons. “You have the opportunity to stop this Grinch from stealing Christmas year after year.”

Molly Casey appeared alongside her father, Jack, a novelist, onetime newspaperman and former parliamentarian for the Republicans who control the State Senate.

The family patriarch, longtime judge John T. Casey, sat nearby in a wheelchair, watching proceedings in a room that now bears his name. Defending Moore was E. Stewart Jones Jr., who has made his name defending the well-heeled but usually-not-angelic in their brushes with the law. His clients include Joe Bruno, the former Senate leader and Troy political patron who was nudged into retirement by a federal prosecution. His grandfather successfully defended storied bootlegger Jack “Legs” Diamond. (Unidentified gunmen, believed to be Albany Police officers, killed Diamond less than 48 hours later.)

“This presentation by the Livingston Family is an exercise in one of the seven deadly sins: greed,” Jones declared, straight-faced, to jurors selected at random.

There is some evidence to back Livingston’s claim. His jolly demeanor is much more in line with the poem’s joyous description of the Christmas celebration, while Moore was more dour and religious. Further, the original text of the poem contained Dutch words for two of Santa’s reindeer—Dunder and Blixem—as opposed to the accepted German words, Donner and Blitzen. They mean “thunder” and “lightning.”

“Moore spoke German. But he didn’t speak Dutch,” said Molly Casey. “The original was written in Dutch. Why would Moore later change it to German—unless he was trying to cover for the fact that this poem was written by another man?”

Like any good lawyer, Jones put the burden of proof on his enemies, and noted there is no physical evidence of a written copy of the poem under Livingston’s hand. Only after Moore published it did Livingston descendants come forward, he argued.

As much as it was a creative way to enliven history, the event was a forum for some of the best characters in greater Albany to enjoy themselves. There is often an element of theater or absurdity in the arenas of law and politics, but it’s usually tucked beneath the a veneer of serious purpose.

The Dec. 18 event was pure spectacle: Jones wore red socks, which he displayed for the crowd after Molly performed a gratuitously sincere witness examination. A Santa Claus with a tenor saxophone played while the jury deliberated. Men in the audience held signs begging “No Clemency for Clement C.” and “Moore is a Bore.” A fog machine and bells welcomed Livingston and Moore from the beyond. (“Slacks?” Moore condescended to the female court aide sitting beside the judge.)

All sides scored laughs with jokes about Troy and its unique take on criminal justice (the juries here are particularly forgiving) and politics.

“Your honor!” Jones objected, as Jack Casey called Livingston to the stand. “Many a witness has left the witness stand in this court room wishing they were dead. But I’ve never heard, even in this city, a witness coming from the dead to testify.”

“If they can vote in Troy,” Casey told retired judge Bud Malone, back on the bench for the evening, “they can testify in Troy.”

After 90 minutes of arguments the attorneys rested, and the jurors split four to two (the four were for Livingston), prompting immediate suggestions that the event become an annual tradition.

“I didn’t rig it!” said Crary, wearing an elf hat and matching red beard, at the after-party. “I swear.”

PHOTO (From Left): Henry Livingston, Jr., and Clement Clarke Moore

by Buyer S. Remorse

’Twas the day after Christmas, and all through the house,
Every creature was hurting — even the mouse.
The toys were all broken, their batteries dead;
Santa passed out, with some ice on his head.
Wrapping and ribbons just covered the floor, while
Upstairs the family continued to snore.
And I in my T-shirt, new Reeboks and jeans,
Went into the kitchen and started to clean.
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the sink to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the curtains, and threw up the sash.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a little white truck, with an oversized mirror.
The driver was smiling, so lively and grand;
The patch on his jacket said “U.S. POSTMAN.”
With a handful of bills, he grinned like a fox
Then quickly he stuffed them into our mailbox.
Bill after bill, after bill, they still came.
Whistling and shouting he called them by name:
“Now Macy, now Best Buy, now Penny’s and Sears
Here’s Wal-Mart and Target and Nordstrom—all here!!
To the tip or your limit, every store, every mall,
Now chargeaway-chargeaway-chargeaway all!”
He whooped and he whistled as he finished his work.
He filled up the box, and then turned with a jerk.
He sprang to his truck and he drove down the road,
Driving much faster with just half a load.
Then I heard him exclaim with great holiday cheer,

PHOTO: Bob McLean by Chad Coleman (Bellevue, Washington, Reporter)

by Shel Silverstein

No one’s hangin’ stockin’s up,
No one’s bakin’ pie,
No one’s lookin’ up to see
A new star in the sky.
No one’s talkin’ brotherhood,
No one’s givin’ gifts,
And no one loves a Christmas tree
On March the twenty-fifth.

by Shel Silverstein

“This is the hour,” said Santa Claus,
“The bells ring merrily.”
Then on his back he slung his pack,
And into his sleigh climbed he.

“On, Dancer! On, Prancer! On, Donner and Blitzen!
On Comet and Cupid!” cried he.
And all the reindeers leaped but one,
And that one stood silently.
He had pulled the sleigh for a thousand years,
And never a word spoke he.
Now he stood in the snow, and he whispered low –
“Oh what do you have for me?”
“I have games and toys for girls and boys,”
Said Santa cheerily.
The reindeer stood as if made of wood –
“But what do you have for me?”
“The socks are hung, the bells are rung!”
Cried Santa desperately.
The reindeer winked at a falling star –
“But what do you have for me?”
Then Santa reached into his beard,
And he found a tiny flea,
And he put it into the reindeer’s ear,
And the reindeer said, “For me? Oh gee!”
And into the blue away they flew,
Away they flew with the flea.
And the moral of this yuletide tale
You know as well as me.

by Shel Silverstein

Tonight’s my first night as a watchdog,
And here it is Christmas Eve.
The children are sleepin’ all cozy upstairs,
While I’m guardin’ the stockin’s and tree.

What’s that now–footsteps on the rooftop?
Could it be a cat or a mouse?
Who’s this down the chimney?
A thief with a beard–
And a big sack for robbin’ the house?

I’m barkin’ I’m growlin’ I’m bittin’ his butt.
He howls and jumps back in his sleigh.
I scare his strange horses, they leap in the air.
I’ve frightened the whole bunch away.

Now the house is all peaceful and quiet again,
The stockin’s are safe as can be.
Won’t the kiddies be glad when they wake up tomorrow
And see how I’ve guarded the tree.

“Christmas Dog” appears in Shel Silverstein‘s collection Falling Up.



by Dylan Thomas

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six. 

All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen. 

It was on the afternoon of the Christmas Eve, and I was in Mrs. Prothero’s garden, waiting for cats, with her son Jim. It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But there were cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats. Sleek and long as jaguars and horrible-whiskered, spitting and snarling, they would slink and sidle over the white back-garden walls, and the lynx-eyed hunters, Jim and I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off Mumbles Road, would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes. The wise cats never appeared. 

We were so still, Eskimo-footed arctic marksmen in the muffling silence of the eternal snows – eternal, ever since Wednesday – that we never heard Mrs. Prothero’s first cry from her igloo at the bottom of the garden. Or, if we heard it at all, it was, to us, like the far-off challenge of our enemy and prey, the neighbor’s polar cat. But soon the voice grew louder. 

“Fire!” cried Mrs. Prothero, and she beat the dinner-gong.

And we ran down the garden, with the snowballs in our arms, toward the house; and smoke, indeed, was pouring out of the dining-room, and the gong was bombilating, and Mrs. Prothero was announcing ruin like a town crier in Pompeii. This was better than all the cats in Wales standing on the wall in a row. We bounded into the house, laden with snowballs, and stopped at the open door of the smoke-filled room.

Something was burning all right; perhaps it was Mr. Prothero, who always slept there after midday dinner with a newspaper over his face. But he was standing in the middle of the room, saying, “A fine Christmas!” and smacking at the smoke with a slipper… 


Read the rest of the story here.

Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas
by Major Henry Livingston, Jr.

’Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ 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;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads,
And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap —
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:
“Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer, and Vixen,
“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blixem;
“To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys — and St. Nicholas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:
He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack:
His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow.
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight —
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Born in Poughkeepsie, New York, Major Henry Livingston, Jr., (1748-1828) was a member of a leading colonial family. Livingston worked as a farmer, surveyor, and justice of the peace. In 1775, he enlisted in the Revolutionary Army, just a week after the birth of his first daughter, Catherine — the subject of his first known poem. From 1787, Livingston published light verse in regional journals. His poems were often published anonymously or under the name R. Livingston. His poem “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” played a significant role in establishing a set of beliefs about Santa Claus, by providing a physical description, and by setting the number and names of the reindeer. Until recently, the poem was attributed to poet Clement Clark Moore (1779-1863), who included it in his collected poems in 1844. In Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous (2000), scholar Don Foster gathered evidence to support Livingston as the author of the well-known poem. (Source:



by Truman Capote

Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning…Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.

A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable — not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. “Oh my,” she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, “It’s fruitcake weather!”

…”I knew it before I got out of bed,” she says, turning away from the window with a purposeful excitement in her eyes. “The courthouse bell sounded so cold and clear. And there were no birds singing; they’ve gone to warmer country, yes indeed. Oh, Buddy, stop stuffing biscuit and fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat. We’ve thirty cakes to bake.”

 It is always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: “It’s fruitcake weather! Fetch the buggy. Help me find my hat.”