It’s the ‘Happy Birthday’ of children’s literature, a poem constructed from iron girders and designed to stay standing even as the ground shifts beneath it and the holiday it represents changes out of all recognition. The Night Before Christmas is the original and perhaps even the best Christmas book.
It’s been interpreted by countless artists and writers since it was published in 1823. We’ve seen an American folk-art version, a contemporary take by Carol Ann Duffy and an interactive app. All have brought something new to the story, but still the essence has remained intact.
Now, finally we have the prequel we didn’t know we needed, an audacious attempt by Kes Gray and Claire Powell to tell the story of that overlooked but most crucial day in Santa’s calendar, December 23rd.
Gray is best known for his super funny series Oi! (Dog, Cat, Duckbilled Platypus etc), where he proved he could create his own rock solid picture book texts. Here he sticks to Clement Moore’s original metre, but adds an entirely new story.
Twas the night before the night before Christmas (that’s Christmas Eve Eve),
And Santa was wiping his brow on his sleeve.
The action here is entirely at the North Pole, where the elves are battling the fast approaching Christmas eve deadline, polishing tangerines, coding computer games and ensuring tiddlies are winked.
The tension mounts and the story unfolds with a series of increasingly hectic to do lists, with Santa overworked and befuddled at its centre.
Paper as folded, scissors were snipped.
Labels were written, fountain pens dipped.
Like all the best Christmas stories, Gray has a go at solving a few of the mysteries at the heart of the operation. Like how does Santa fit presents for every child in one sack?
Whose job is it to provide the batteries?
And why exactly does he hang on to the facial hair, so long after we reached peak beard? The signs are there, but inevitably it’s Mrs Claus who has the answer.
He may have given up the pipe and be a little less goblin like since he first appeared, but Kes Gray’s new St Nicholas keeps the spirit of the original alive, ready for yet another Christmas Eve.
The Night Before the Night Before Christmas is published by Hodder