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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Away They All Jotted Like Bad Poets Besotted

'Twas the night before Christmas and in every home,/ Somebody was parodying that famed Christmas poem ...

Wait. Hold it. Stop right there.

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We're not going to add to the din, to the clatter, to the unceasing anapestic cacophony of the Yuletide chorus. We're merely here to note that Americans of all ages, races, creeds, colors, professions, degrees of sanity and levels of intoxication just can't stop writing and reciting parodies of Clement Moore's classic holiday poem, the one that starts "'Twas the night before Christmas."

It's an obsession. It's a fixation. It's a national pastime and a national psychosis.

There's a jazz version, a rap version, a rave version, a punk version. There are versions for Jews, for Muslims, for Buddhists, for nudists. There are versions sprinkled with Yiddish, with Spanish, with Arabic, with Croatian. There's an Ebonics version that's offensive enough for Strom Thurmond's next birthday party and a politically correct version scrubbed so squeaky clean you could recite it at a NOW convention. There's also a Cajun version that contains these memorable lines:

His eyes how dey shine, his dimple how merry!/ Maybe he been drinkin' de wine from blackberry./ His cheek was like rose, his nose like a cherry/ on secon' t'ought maybe he lap up de sherry.

There are versions for drunks, for stoners, for yuppies, for hippies, parodies for prisoners, for hillbillies, for rednecks, for bikers. Some versions are celebrations of Jesus or Elvis or Marilyn Manson or Led Zeppelin.

Somebody somewhere in this big, sprawling nation has written a "Night Before Christmas" parody about every conceivable subject -- and some subjects that you might have considered inconceivable, such as bivalves, or colostomies or the agonies of arthritis: The support stockings were hung by the chimney with care ...

Taken together, the hundreds of parodies of this one immortal poem paint a portrait of the United States -- a land that is at once serious and silly, reverent and iconoclastic, idealistic and cynical, sentimental and vulgar and always in danger of lurching exuberantly across the boundaries of good taste:

'Twas the night before Christmas and boy was it neat/ The kids were both gone and my wife was in heat ...

In 1996, Matthew Monroe, then a grad student at the University of North Carolina, was trolling the Internet when he noticed "Canonical list" web sites -- the Canonical List of Pickup Lines ... of Oxymorons ... of Elephant Jokes.

"I was wondering what canonical list I could start," recalls Monroe, 27. "I decided to collect variations on ''Twas the Night Before Christmas' since I had seen several versions posted in the weeks leading up to Christmas 1996."

That year, his Canonical List of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas Variations consisted of 25 versions. By Christmas 2000, Monroe had 465 versions. This year, he's up to 558 and counting.

Monroe combs the Internet for new versions, categorizes them, then alphabetizes the categories, which now range from "Afghanistan" to "Jesus" to "Sexual Bondage" to "Zepmas (Led Zepellin)."

"Last weekend I found another 20 more that had been posted," he says, "and I added them to the canon."

Two of them dealt with Iraq. One offered this up-to-the-minute update of Moore's classic opening lines:

'Twas the night before Christmas, somewhere in Iraq./ The inspectors were searching, Saddam was in shock;/ The anthrax was safe in a baby milk plant,/ but Saddam kept some extra, stuffed down his pants.

In these parodies, America is a broad and bountiful land, a diverse and plentiful land, a land big enough to contain multitudes of Santas, most of them affectionate group self-parodies.

In the Cajun version, Santa is dressed in muskrat and piloting a skiff pulled by alligators.

In a vintage hillbilly version, he wears patchwork clothes and drives a wagon pulled by eight bears.

In a Croatian version, Santa -- or Sveti Nikola -- reeks of booze, eats leftover pizza and wears brown sandals with black socks.

In a Polish version, Santa has "vodka-glazed eyes" and "the biggest tennis shoes I ever saw." He arrives on a garbage cart pulled by eight pigs and immediately "heads for the kitchen and opens a beer."

In one stoner version -- there are many -- Santa is a Deadhead:

He was skinny and frail but a jolly old dude/ and I laughed when I saw him, with a new attitude;/ He had bloodshot eyes, you could hear Grateful Dead/ coming out of the headphones he had on his head.

In a rap version, Santa is dressed in hip-hop flava:

His threads was all leatha, his chains was all gold,/ His sneaks was Puma and they was five years old.

America is a nation obsessed with celebrity, so it's no surprise to find celebrities making cameo appearances in these poems. In 1982 one parodist couldn't resist the temptation to write "A Visit From Jack Nicklaus." In 1987, "A Visit from St. Nicholson" contained a pretty accurate description of the Oscar-winning actor:

He had a fat face and a flabby beer belly/ From too many trips to the bar and the deli/ "It's tough when an actor becomes fat and lazy./ I only get calls to play someone who's crazy."

In one version, Santa is St. Elvis: His hips how they twitched, his gut was gigantic ...

In Moore's original poem, Santa has a peaceful, productive Christmas Eve. His reindeer fly him to the roof of a house, he slides down the chimney, fills stockings with presents, lays his finger aside his nose, and zooms back up, uttering his famous farewell: "Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night."

It's heartwarming. But, as parodists love to point out, it's not realistic. America is a fully armed nation and a guy sneaking into a house in the middle of the night can run into serious trouble. In many parodies Santa gets shot or stabbed or robbed. In a classic parody from the 1980s, a Brooklyn resident watches Santa sneak into his apartment:

As he crept off da roof, it became clear to me/ Dat dis guy was lookin' to steal my TV/ I waited a second until the time seemed ripe/ Then smacked him in da head, bada-bing wit a pipe.

Fortunately the story has a happy ending. Santa is dazed but not fatally injured and he persuades the Brooklynite to finish his route and deliver the goodies to good children everywhere.

Dat night I was Santa, bringin' kids joy and bliss/ And if you don't believe me, then, hey, JINGLE DIS.

Why do Americans keep doing these terrible things to our most beloved Christmas poem?

"It's a sitting duck," says Billy Collins, America's poet laureate. "For one thing, it starts with the word ''twas.' And it's got that great imagery: 'visions of sugarplums danced in their heads' -- that's rather psychedelic from our point of view."

Frank Jacobs, who has parodied the poem four times in the pages of Mad magazine, says, "It's easy to parody, so everybody and his brother and sister are going to try it."

"Writing parody is a very childlike activity," says X.J. Kennedy, author of six books of poetry and 18 children's books. "Kids are big parody artists. You hear kids singing, 'Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Joker laid an egg.' Kids like to monkey around with the original, and that urge persists into big people."

Another reason people keep messing with Moore's poem is that it's got a great beat. You can dance to it. The beat is called anapestic, which means that it consists of two unaccented syllables followed by an accented one.

"Anapest is a very jumpy rhythm," says Collins. "The phrase 'bada-bing bada-bang' is anapestic. That's why it's so popular. Most hip-hop and rap music is anapestic. The anapest beat is addictive. You want to keep going."

"It's a very infectious beat, isn't it?" says Kennedy. "The damn thing sort of drums its way into your consciousness and that makes it easy to parody."

Kennedy should know. About six years ago he wrote a Freudian parody of Moore's poem. Titled "A Visit From St. Sigmund," it was published in a magazine, then reprinted in several college textbooks:

He drove a wheeled couch pulled by five fat psychoses/ And the gleam in his eye might induce a hypnosis./ Like subliminal meanings his coursers they came/ And, consulting his notebook, he called them by name:/ "Now Schizo, now Fetish, now Fear of Castration!/ On, Paranoia! On, Penis Fixation!"