DECEMBER
1990

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

12-11-90

Buggy Night Before Christmas

"'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring not even a mouse!" Clements penned those words to begin his well-known and oft-repeated poem "The Night Before Christmas."           

Written for hs children Clement Moorecould not have imagined how many generations of children the world over would enjoy his work. There is indeed Christmas magic in his carefully-chosen words. Anyone who has listened to the poem being read by a loved one on Christmas Eve will attest to the fact.

Magic maybe, reality probably not. In fact Clement Moore ignored the reality of life in 19th century England when writing the poem. Especially when it comes to insects. No doubt several creatures of the six-legged kind were stirring that night long ago. For instance, Clements himself probably harbored lice and fleas - everybody in those days did. So when he scratched his head in trying to conjure up the next line he probably dislodged a louse or two.

His home was no doubt home to firebrats, silverfish and cockroaches that went sallying forth under cover of darkness. Those stockings that were hung by the chimney with care were probably moth eaten. Careful hanging might have been necessary to keep them from falling apart.

Clements himself might have had a shaved head - to get rid of lice - and therefore a night cap was necessary for sleeping. At least sleeping with a warm head in the unheated homes of the times. Indeed he might have always slept lightly because of the bed bugs that bite only during ones sleep.

So to be honest, and one must at this time of year, his poem should probably begin in this fashion.

"Tws the night before CVhristmas and all through the house,
many insects were stirring including a louse.
All the moth-eaten stockings were hung by the chimney with care
in hopes that St. Nicholas would not notice the holes there.
Ma in her kerchief and I in my cap
had ignored the fleas and finally settled in for a long winter's nap."

The poem loses a little something. Sometimes, especailly when it comes to insect pests, fiction is better than truth. Especially at Christmas time.

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox