'Twas the night before Christmas,
when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring,
not even a mouse
The stockings were hung
by the chimney with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas
soon would be there
Holly Menzie sits at her kitchen table in Geneva, Ohio (pop. 6,595), reciting The Night Before Christmas, the classic poem that she's heard and read so many times that she knows the words by heart.
"My father always read the story to me and my sisters at Christmas when we were growing up," says Menzie, 62, a publicist for Lake Erie College in nearby Painesville. "I read it to my own sons so much that they probably got tired of it."
In 1975, Menzie's father, Blair Blowers, traveled to Hawaii and bought a book containing a Hawaiian version of the story of St. Nicholas' Christmas Eve visit. Knowing that Holly cherished the story as a child, he gave her the souvenir featuring Hawaiian words, imagery and characters.
A few years later, Menzie's dad gave her another gift, a 1945 book of the timeless tale written more than 185 years ago. Before long, Menzie began browsing flea markets and garage sales for other editions of The Night Before Christmas.
"I kept finding new ones," she says, explaining how her collection got its start.
Today, Menzie has amassed more than 250 books, tree ornaments, records, blankets, pillows, music boxes and even a board game with The Night Before Christmas theme.
Her two oldest books date to 1910. "I got this one at a garage sale for a dollar," says Menzie, referring to a book published by M.A. Donohue & Co. of Chicago. "It obviously was given to someone as a Christmas gift in 1917" based on the date written on an inside page.
One of the more unusual items in her collection is a recording of jazz legend Louis Armstrong narrating the poem in his unmistakable raspy voice at his home in Queens, N.Y., on Feb. 26, 1971. It was the last recording by the famous trumpeter and singer, who died five months later.
In recent years, Menzie has come to learn more about the origins and significance of the popular Christmas story. Clement Clarke Moore, a New York biblical scholar and college professor, is credited with writing the poem, originally titled A Visit From St. Nicholas and first published anonymously in a Troy, N.Y., newspaper in 1823.
In the poem, the author paints a picture of a white-bearded and "jolly old elf" who arrives in a reindeer-drawn sleigh and bounds down the chimney with a sack full of toys.
"Santa Claus comes to life in the story," Menzie says. "He's the magical symbol of Christmas, and I really think the story is how children's modern-day view of Christmas began."
The story also embodies the spirit of giving, which Menzie practices by sharing her collection with guests who visit her home between Thanksgiving and Christmas. She's also exhibited her books at the Geneva Public Library and plans to display some of her treasures this year at the First United Church of Christ in nearby Austinburg and at Broadway Antiques store in Geneva.
"It will be an interesting and eye-catching thing to have in our front window at Christmas," says Mark Schupska, 55, owner of Broadway Antiques. "Some of the vintage and antique children's books she acquired from me."
Menzie says she'll probably bequeath her collection to one of her sonsDean, 37; Matt, 34; or Greg, 32a museum or a library. Until then, she's likely to keep searching antique shops and second-hand bookstores for more volumes of The Night Before Christmas, an enchanting story that she's loved since childhood.
"People want to believe in magic at Christmas, and the story is magical," she says.