Clement Clarke Moore, the lord of Chelsea (the manor for which the neighborhood is named), lived a long and distinguished life as an educator and land developer, dying in 1863 at his home in Newport, Rhode Island.
He was originally buried in the churchyard of St. Luke-in-the-Field (pictured below) in the area of today’s West Village.
What does all this have to do with Christmas you ask?
Moore was a revered scholar, former president of Columbia College (later Columbia University) and the developer of the General Theological Seminary on his old Chelsea property.
But most everybody knows him better as the author of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” or “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” a verse of holiday anticipation penned for his children.
For well over one hundred years an unusual and special ceremony has taken place at Church of the Intercession, the house of worship which sits upon the grounds of Trinity Church Cemetery.
The tradition was apparently initiated by a vicar at the chapel named Milo Hudson Gates.
First initiated in 1911, Gates, according to a 1933 New York Daily News report, “and his child parishioners trouped across to Trinity Cemetery to pray and sing at the grave where Dr. Moore’s bones have rested since they were removed from the vault in St. Luke’s Church on Hudson Street.”
Hundreds of children, carrying lanterns and torches in the old days, have gathered around Moore’s gravestone and sang Christmas songs over the years.
“Carols were sung and wreaths placed on the grave,” according to a 1919 report. The famous poem by Moore was then recited.
“His name was Clement C. Moore. His body sleeps beneath the Christmas trees that grow in Trinity Cemetery.” [December 23, 1918]
Below: Children surrounding the grave of Moore’s, sometime in the 1920s or 1930s (according the church website).
This tradition has survived into modern day with some interesting variations.
Frequently a person dressed as Saint Nicholas (the saint, not the Santa) leads the procession. In recent decades, a person of some renown reads the poem such as in 2003 when basketball great Isiah Thomas brought Moore’s words to life.
Below: In 1990, Joyce Dinkins, wife of the mayor David Dinkins, was invited to read the poem.
And the tradition returns this year — but in a whole new way!
From their website: “The 110th reading of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” at Church of the Intercession in Washington Heights will not be held in person this year, but you can hear the story during a special broadcast scheduled for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning on PIX11.
During the program, the poem will be read by Tony Award-winner James Monroe Iglehart, best known as Genie in Aladdin.
There will be a guest appearance by Young People’s Chorus, The Boys and Girls Choir of Harlem Alumni Ensemble, the singing of “Silent Night,” and a visit to Clement Clarke Moore’s grave in Trinity Cemetery.”
December 24, 6pm and 10:30pm
December 25, 4:30am
PIX11 News, check your local listings. And visit Intercession’s website for more information.