CHRISTMAS CREATURES

A look at a few of the animals found in popular holiday stories

This partridge (a.k.a. ruffed grouse) was photographed in the U.P. wilderness, but unlike the bird in the holiday classic, it was not perched atop a pear tree.

Story and photos by Scot Stewart
It is the opening line in the poem (first known as A Visit from St. Nickolas,) ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, “when all through the house, not a creature was stirring not even a mouse.”
Animals are a big part of the stories of Christmas. In 1822 Clement Clarke Moore, a scholarly New York City writer and educator, wrote a poem for his children. Because it was for children, he did not originally publish it, but a family friend submitted it to a New York newspaper where it was published the following Christmas. It was so popular the poem was picked up by a large number of papers in the years that followed and in 1837 was anonymously published in a poetry book. Moore did not acknowledge it as his until 1844.
There have been other claims to ownership of the poem, the most prominent, Major Henry Livingston Jr., a distant relative of Moore’s wife. Today, most consider Moore the author.
The poem created a greater support for Christmas as a children’s holiday and a newer, clearer vision of the St. Nickolas Washington Irving had painted. The poem also created the images and the names of St. Nickolas’ eight reindeer, including Dunder and Blixem. “Dunder en Blixem” is Old Dutch for thunder and lightning, a phrase that gives support to Livingston’s claim of authorship as he was Dutch.
A poetry editor later publishing the piece using the wording of “Donner” and the German “Blitzen” from a different version of Moore’s copies to create eight reindeer.
In 1830s New York the mouse mentioned in the poem was probably a house mouse. A small gray mouse, it is a common home invader, finding comfort in warm homes during winter months.
In the Upper Peninsula, brown and white deer mice and meadow jumping mice are more common in camps and occasionally houses. With large eyes and long whiskers, they are well adapted for nocturnal activities like finding cookie crumbs left by people in hurry.

A meadow jumping mouse is the kind folks in the U.P. are more likely to encounter in their homes on Christmas Eve and throughout the winter months.

Mice play a major role in another Christmas story that has become the Nutcracker Suite Opus 71a by Tchaikovsky and a ballet. Based on an 1816 story by Prussian writer E.T.A. Hoffman, The Nutcracker is a complex story revolving around a young child named Marie, who with her brother and sister, receive a set of toys from Marie’s godfather, including a nutcracker. The nutcracker comes alive to battle a seven-headed Mouse-King. The story continues until Marie becomes a young women and the Nutcracker eventually defeats the Mouse-King, takes Marie to the doll kingdom where they are married, and Marie is crowned queen of the kingdom. Clearly these mice are not the gentle creatures suggested in St. Nickolas’ visit.
St. Nickolas does bring unique creatures with him though…

 

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