“The Night Before Christmas”–Straight Up with a Twist

This month (and on into 2013), Special Collections is featuring two festive cocktail and food exhibits. They include some holiday and seasonal themed drinks, publications with party games, and recipes for canapés and appetizers. One of the major highlights is a set of French-language post cards, one for each astrological sign, and each featuring a somewhat outlandishly decorated cocktail. (More on those when they aren’t in the case and can be scanned.)

One of the other particularly exciting items in the case is this:

A Modern Version of the Nightmare Before Christmas, 1932
A Modern Version of the Nightmare Before Christmas, 1932

Private printed in 1932 as gift to family and friends of Mr. and Mrs. Melbert Cary, Jr., this little publication is unique find! (There are only 11 copies in libraries!) In addition to the shaker-shaped pages, the covers are actually covered in brushed aluminum, so it has a metallic feel. It’s bound together at the bottom, so the pages fold down as you read. One wonders if the gift book came with any sort of liquid accompaniment…

As some of you may know, December 5th, 2012, marked the 79th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. If you do the math, you may notice that this book was published while the sale, manufacture, and transport of alcohol was still illegal. A Modern Version of the Night Before Christmas is no mere re-telling–it’s a cleverly-written parody. (Robert McBlair, the author, seems to have contributed largely to literary magazines as a poet, though he also published two novels in the 1920s, in addition to this work.) Since our edition is in somewhat fragile condition, our exhibit does feature of transcript of the full text and it would be unfair not to share at least part of the text here.

‘Twas the night before Christmas,
When all through the flat
Not a creature was sober,
Not even the cat.
The glasses were placed
On the mantel with care
In hope that our Nicholas
Soon would be there;
The children were dining
At Tony’s and Fred’s
Where speakeasy vintages
Danced through their heads;

And Mamma with her whiskey,
And I with my gin,
Had just settled down
For an evening of sin,
When out in the lane
There arose such a clatter
I swallowed an olive—
Now what was the matter?
Agulp to the window
I fell like a flash,
Tore open the shutters
And threw up the sash.

As I drew in my head
And was turning around
In the doorway our Nicholas
Came with a bound.
He was dressed like a Mayor
From his head to his feet,
And his tie was all spangled
With diamonds and sleet;
A bag full of beer
He had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler
Just opening his pack.

He laid down his burden
To draw forth a sample,
And snapped off the cap
With a thumb that was ample.
He was cheerful and prompt—
An expensive young beggar—
And we laughed when we saw him—
Our Christmas bootlegger!
A wink of his eye,
And a twist of his head,
Soon gave us to know
We had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word,
But went straight to his work,
And filled all the glasses;
Then turned with a jerk,
And, laying his finger
Aside of his nose,
And giving a nod:
“Down the hatch! Here she goes!”
He sprang to the door,
To his men gave a whistle,
And away they all went
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!”

This book is yet another wonderful example of the surprises that are lurking in Special Collections. We acquired A Modern Version of the Night Before Christmas earlier this year and we’ve been gleefully waiting to share it. Plus, it just seems to be a fitting feature this time of year.

As 2012 comes nearer to its close, we should have just enough time to share one or two more items with you, complete with recipes that range from the delicious to the disturbing. There’s an exciting food-related event or two in the works for early 2013, lots more books and manuscripts, and a few other Special Collections projects that may be of interest. So keep following and keep commenting! We’re glad to have you along for the ride.

2 thoughts on ““The Night Before Christmas”–Straight Up with a Twist

  1. Lidholm, Elaine (VDACS)

    This is fascinating. I sent it to a friend who does a tour of New York City with Santa Claus history.

    Elaine Lidholm
    Director of Communications
    Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
    102 Governor Street
    Richmond VA 23219


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  2. Pingback: A Tiny Post on Some Tiny Books | What's Cookin' @ Special Collections?!

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