Hear “Twas The Night Before Christmas” Read by Stephen Fry & John Cleese

You have to hand it to the Eng­lish: they know how to do Christ­mas right. Maybe it has to do with their respect for tra­di­tion, maybe with their sense of occa­sion, maybe with their apti­tude for pageantry, and maybe with their com­pul­sion, for all that, not to take any­thing too seri­ous­ly. It helps that they also pro­duce per­form­ers of the high­est cal­iber, espe­cial­ly of the ora­tor­i­cal vari­ety: Mon­ty Python’s John Cleese, for instance, or man of let­ters and all-around enter­tain­ing per­son­al­i­ty Stephen Fry. And so today, with its tit­u­lar eve near­ly here, we give you both of those Eng­lish­men’s ren­di­tions of “ ‘Twas the Night Before Christ­mas.”

Fry’s read­ing at the top of the post, which comes with orches­tral back­ing, adheres close­ly to Clement Clarke Moore’s orig­i­nal 1823 text. The poem, for those who’ve nev­er spent Christ­mas in an Eng­lish-speak­ing coun­try, tells of a father awak­ened in the mid­dle of the night by none oth­er than San­ta Claus, come to deliv­er his fam­i­ly’s presents. More recent­ly, Fry nar­rat­ed anoth­er sto­ry of San­ta Claus in “San­ta For­got,” an ani­mat­ed pro­mo­tion­al video for Alzheimer’s Research UK that uses the beloved fig­ure glimpsed so vivid­ly in Moore’s poem to raise aware­ness of demen­tia and the research ded­i­cat­ed to cur­ing it.

In his read­ing of “ ‘Twas The Night Before Christ­mas” just above, John Cleese mod­ern­izes the sto­ry, freight­ing it with ref­er­ences to safe­ty belts, flat-screen tele­vi­sions, and Apple com­put­ers — and end­ing with San­ta Claus cap­tured by the father: “So he now lives with us, locked up in the cel­lar. We go down each day to see the old fel­low and get our new presents. And we ate the rein­deer, so we’re sor­ry but Christ­mas is can­celed next year.” Cleese has a ten­den­cy to dis­play such irrev­er­ence to the hol­i­day. “So sad to see u end with a tirade against Christ­mas,” tweet­ed some­one who’d attend­ed a live show of his and Eric Idle’s last month in Ari­zona. “Not against Christ­mas,” Cleese fired back, “against its com­mer­cial exploita­tion. Big dif­fer­ence, which the rest of the audi­ence under­stood.”

Noth­ing like a brac­ing shot of Eng­lish wit to treat an over­dose of com­mer­cial­ism, espe­cial­ly of the pow­er­ful Amer­i­can vari­ety. But for all the mas­tery of Christ­mas on the oth­er side of the pond, Clarke Moore, an Amer­i­can, defined the very char­ac­ter of San­ta Claus in the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion — a spry old gen­tle­man with rose-like cheeks and a cher­ry-line nose, a beard “as white as the snow,” and “a lit­tle round bel­ly that shook when he laughed, like a bowl­ful of jel­ly.” “ ‘Twas the Night Before Christ­mas,” orig­i­nal­ly titled “A Vis­it from Saint Nicholas,” remains quite pos­si­bly the best-known poem ever writ­ten by an Amer­i­can. But wher­ev­er in the world one reads them, San­ta Claus’ final words, and the poem’s, still res­onate: “Hap­py Christ­mas to all, and to all a good-night!”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stan Lee Reads “The Night Before Christ­mas,” Telling the Tale of San­ta Claus, the Great­est of Super Heroes

Bob Dylan Reads “‘Twas the Night Before Christ­mas” On His Hol­i­day Radio Show (2006)

“Wern­er Her­zog” Reads ‘Twas The Night Before Christ­mas”

Impres­sion­ist Reads ‘Twas The Night Before Christ­mas in Celebri­ty Voic­es

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.