The Night After Christmas

December 26, 2014

On this day after Christmas, I can’t resist highlighting “The Night After Christmas,” a popular parody of a popular poem.

There are some poems in the American canon (“The Song of Hiawatha” is one) that are just ripe for parody. The hugely popular “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas”—also known as “The Night Before Christmas”—sparked the also- (but not quite as-) popular “The Night After Christmas.” Where the “Night Before” celebrates abundance, the “Night After” focuses on the inevitable results of overabundance. And, just as the original exists in variations, so the parody was reprinted with its own variations when the two were paired again in The Souvenir, in 1872.

“The Night After” includes a number of elements that would have disconcerted Moore: “flapdoddle” appears to be a variant of the more-common “flapdoodle;” the doctor’s horse is named for an early purgative. (The doctor’s visit to patients in their home was a “house call”—an experience once common in the U.S., but now as unlikely as an actual visit from St. Nicholas.)

“The Night After Christmas” (from Frank Leslie’s Budget of Fun, March 1864, p. 7.)

’Twas the night after Christmas, when all thro’ the house
Every soul was abed and as still as a mouse—
The stockings, so lately Saint Nicholas’s care,
Were emptied of all that was eatable there;
The darlings had duly been tucked in their beds,
With very full stomachs and pains in their heads.
I was dozing away in my new cotton cap,
And Nancy was rather far gone in a nap,
When out in the nursery arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my sleep, crying, “What is the matter?”
I flew to each bedside, still half in a doze,
Tore open the curtains and threw off the clothes,
While the light of the taper served clearly to show
The piteous plights of those objects below;
For what to the father’s fond eye should appear
But the little pale face of each sick little dear;
For each pet that had crammed itself full as a tick
I knew in a moment now felt like Old Nick.
Their pulses were rapid, their breathings the same—
What their stomachs rejected I’ll mention by name:
Now turkey, now stuffing, plum-pudding, of course,
And custards, and crullers, and cranberry sauce;
Before outraged Nature, all went to the wall—
Yes, lollypops, flapdoddle, dinner and all.
Like pellets which urchins from popguns let fly,
Went figs, nuts and raisins, jams, jelly and pie,
Till each error of diet was brought to my view,
To the shame of mamma and Santa Claus too.
I turned from the sight, to my bedroom stepped back
And brought out a vial marked “Pulv. Ipecac;”
When my Nancy exclaimed, for their sufferings shocked her,
“Don’t you think you had better, love, run for the doctor?”
I ran, and was scarcely back under my roof
When I heard the sharp clatter of old Jalap’s hoof;
I might say that I hardly had turned myself round
When the doctor came into the room with a bound;
He was covered with mud from his head to his foot,
And the suit he had on was his very best suit;
He had hardly had time to put that on his back,
And he looked like a Falstaff half fuddled with sack.
His eyes how they twinkled! Had the doctor got merry?
His cheeks looked like port and his breath smelt of sherry;
He hadn’t been shaved for a fortnight or so,
And the beard on his chin wasn’t white as the snow.
But inspecting their tongues in despite of their teeth,
And drawing his watch from his waistcoat beneath,
He felt of each pulse, saying, “Each little belly
Must get rid”—here he laughed—“of the rest of that jelly.”
I gazed on each chubby, plump, sick little elf,
And groaned when he said so in spite of myself;
But a wink of his eye, when he physicked our Fred,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He didn’t prescribe, but went straightway to his work
And dosed all the rest, gave his trousers a jerk,
And adding directions while blowing his nose,
He buttoned his coat, from his chair he arose,
Then jumped in his gig, gave old Jalap a whistle,
And Jalap dashed off as if pricked by a thistle;
But the doctor exclaimed, ere he drove out of sight,
“They’ll be well by to-morrow—good-night, Jones, good-night.”

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