The Historic Odessa Foundation’s celebration of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” on its 200th birthday will bring two holiday celebrities to Delaware Friday, Dec. 1, to mark the anniversary.
The use of the Clement Clark Moore poem to decorate the Odessa’s 249-year-old Corbit-Sharp House caught the attention of author Pamela McColl, who has written a book tracing the art and history of the Moore’s classic poem, and “Mr. Christmas” Benjamin Bradley, who hosts Netflix’s “Holiday Home Makeover.”
They’ll be in Odessa to celebrate the bicentennial of “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” which is the real title of the enduring poem published anonymously in 2023.
McColl, a historian and author of “Twas The Night: The Art and History of the Classic Christmas Poem,” will be introduced by Bradley at 4:30 p.m. in the Corbit-Sharp House for her lecture about the book and research.
She will sign books after her talk. The event is expected to end by 7:30 p.m.
McColl’s book traces the evolution of the holiday and shows how the historic figure of Saint Nicholas evolves into the central character in the story. It also talks about how characteristics of today’s Santa Claus originated with Clement Clark Moore.
She uses dozens of vintage illustrations from the thousands of editions published over the last 200 years in her presentation.
McColl created a sensation in 2012 when she published “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” edited by Santa Claus for the Benefit of Children of the 21st Century.
It was hailed as the first “smoke-free” edition of the poem since McColl omitted the image of Santa smoking a pipe with a ring of smoke over his head.
It not only was covered by an amazing amount of national and international press, but also won Global EBook Best Christian Book of 2012, A Gold Medal Best Holiday Book for the Moonbeam Children’s Book awards, and four Benjamin Franklin book awards for 2013.
Odessa display designer Brian Miller, who used the “Twas the Night Before Christmas” as a decorating theme in 2006 said it was a no-brainer to bring the poem back to celebrate its bicentennial.
The exhibit also marks the 35th year Historic Odessa has been picking a piece of children’s literature as a theme for decorating one of its houses.
Bradley, a member of the organization Golden Glow of Christmas Past, has loaned some of his vintage Christmas decorations to Historic Odessa’s holiday exhibit celebrating the classic poem turning 200.
Three members of that organization have loaned original “Twas the Night” books and artwork from the many editions of the poems. They are on display in the hall entrance of the Corbit-Sharp House.
Miller hopes their presence will allow visitors to spot — but not touch — the version they read as children, as well as the versions they may have read to their children and grandchildren later.
“I think that’s a really cool thing,” Miller said.
Odessa’s Delaware connection
One of the Delaware connections to the poem is that Claymont resident and illustrator F.O.C. Darley did the artwork for an 1862 version of the poem.
The Darley House, now owned by the Claymont Renaissance Development Corp., has loaned seven framed reproduction art works from that book to Historic Odessa for the display.
“It’s one of the coolest things in the house,” Miller said. “They each have the words of the poem below each illustration.”
Darley’s work ties into Delaware’s and the Brandywine Valley’s long history of area illustrators include Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parrish, Frank Schoonover and N.C. Wyeth
“What I love about Darley is that he was before Howard Pyle and the others, so it’s nice to highlight another Delawarean,” he said.
Miller said he was able to reuse a few things from his 2006 display, including the stockings hung by the chimney with care.
“They’re very hard to find with a sort-of old style look,” he said.
He also reused a plate of cookies but upped the ante, by having Santa spill the milk in the kitchen and leave the mess, courtesy of a fake spill they had created by a food artist.
“People have seemed to have liked that already,” he said.
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Many visitors have been a little surprised to find the children and the parents in their beds, he said.
But, Miller notes, he’s just illustrating the “snug in their beds” part of the tale, before the daddy hears Santa arrive.
Some of his decorations were pulled from Historic Odessa’s collections and he made some.
Miller is particularly proud that “Twas the Night Before Christmas” is an American holiday story. Most of the children’s Christmas literature is English, he said.
To celebrate that, the tree in the parlor is festooned with American flags.
He is particularly delighted with the way the parents’ bedroom turned out.
Its paneled walls are a verdigris green. Instead of using red in the room, he chose to use oranges, which pop against the background color.
“The orange is an old symbol related to St. Nicholas,” he said.
That little tidbit is an example of the research and inspiration behind all the exhibits, he said.
There’s lots of red and white, a collection of Santas, sleigh bells, and plenty of homey touches like popcorn and cranberry garlands spread throughout the house.
“If ever there was a year that shows Christmas, this is the year,” Miller said. “Some of our other stories, it happened in the background and I had to kind of bring it in subtly, kind of through the back door.
“But this is full-tilt Christmas, and what a great way to celebrate 200 years.”
If you go
Visitors can tour the exhibit and property through Dec. 31, 2023.
Historic Odessa is open to the public March through December, Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Sunday 1 to 4:30 p.m. Monday by reservation. Admission is adults, $10; groups, seniors and students, $8; children under 6 free.
The Houses and property will be lit up in white lights at night for the season, and the foundation offers a variety of tours, events and programs. 302-378-4119 ; www.historicodessa.org.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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