The American characterization of Santa Claus—a jolly, bearded man with rosy cheeks and an ample tummy—dates to 1823, with the publication of "Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas," popularly referred to as "The Night Before Christmas."
The man who took credit for the traditions outlined in verse, including giving presents and hanging stockings, is Thomas Clarke Moore (1779-1863), a biblical scholar from Manhattan. But he may not be the poem's true author.
Vassar professor Don Foster asserts that Moore has fooled the American public for more than 150 years. In his book, Author Unkown (Henry Holt & Company), he compiles strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that the actual author is Henry Livingston, who died before the poem reached prominence.
"Clement Clarke Moore was no George Washington," Foster told The New York Times of the presumed literary fraud. The poem, first published anonymously, more closely matches Livingston's writing voice and style.
It remains to be seen if Foster's findings will hold up with his literary peers.
Until then, "to all Happy Chistmas and to all a good night."