Signing Children’s Books: The Night Before Christmas
This article is part of our “Signing Children’s Books” series, which highlights children’s books and pairs them with pre-built Signing Savvy word lists to help you get started with learning and signing the vocabulary in the book. Reading and literacy is so important. By sharing these pre-built word lists, we hope to cut down on prep time for families that are just beginning to learn ASL and hope you can find more comfort in sharing literacy with our young deaf children.
Over the years that I have been teaching deaf and hard of hearing children, and even in the years since, I am often approached this time of year by parents or grandparents of young deaf children and asked, “How do you sign The Night Before Christmas?”
It’s a Christmas classic, but it was written in an Old English format, so the words are difficult to sign. Many struggle with whether to follow the classic words, exactly the way they are written on the page (for fear of not honoring a classic), or to sign it more conceptually correct in signs and terms that are easily understood by young children – it is a struggle anyone who reads the book has to tackle.
I have done this book a few different ways. One approach I took with my upper elementary students that really worked out well was to take the lines from the book, verse by verse. I typed them up on a page or wrote them on the board, one sentence or phrase a day, and really dove into the meaning of what the author was saying. Then together, as a class, we decided how we wanted to sign the verse so that it was clearly understood. This allowed the students to really own the way the story was told. We then went over to the school where the young deaf children were, and did some storytelling with them and told the story through a little signing and acting. The children loved it!
Typically, the rule for words that don’t have signs, is you fingerspell them. For example, in The Night Before Christmas when it talks about “Mama in her 'kerchief,” you would fingerspell K-E-R-C-H-I-E-F. If you want to explain what ‘kerchief is, you could fingerspell K-E-R-C-H-I-E-F and then sign SCARF afterwards (or, however you think is best to describe a kerchief). By fingerspelling, you aren’t changing the words or details of the original story. After paring the fingerspelling of the word with a sign the first time, you can then use the sign throughout the rest of the story when referencing that word.
Fingerspelling all the words that don’t have signs, like kerchief, would mean fingerspelling much of this book. It would also be a more accurate and direct translation of the book. However, before you decide how this classic should be handled and how things will be signed, you first need to think about who your audience is (both who is telling the story and who is observing). My audience for this book has typically been young children, let’s say 1 year to 10 years old. My opinion is that these young children are more interested in the story and good storytelling than in receiving an accurate, direct translation. Therefore, I tend to focus on selecting signs that help deliver the main message, rather than staying razer-focused on providing a direct translation. It’s also important to remember that sometimes it is parents or grandparents with limited sign vocabulary or experience that want to sign this book. The goal is to share this Christmas classic with our young deaf children. Focus on the message of the story and have fun with it!
People may have different opinions of how they would want to sign the story, and that is fine. You can change things up based on your audience and your signing skills. Below is the Night Before Christmas in English word order using ASL signs.
The Night Before Christmas
NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house…
NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS HAPPEN ALL AROUND HOUSE
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
NOTHING MOVING MOUSE NOTHING
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
SOCKS HANG NEAR CHIMNEY
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.
HOPE SOON SANTA ARRIVE
The children were nestled all snug in their bed,
CHILDREN ALL SLEEP IN BED
While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads,
DREAMING SWEETS CANDY
And Mama in her kerchief, and I in my cap,
MOM SCARF DAD HAT
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap—
JUST LAY BED SLEEP
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
SUDDENLY HAPPEN OUTSIDE LOUD NOISE
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter,
I JUMP OUT BED SEE WHAT WRONG
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
QUICK GO WINDOW
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash
OPEN (but both hands) OPEN-THE-WINDOW
The Moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
MOON SHINE NEW SNOW
Gave the luster of midday to objects below,
SHINE BRIGHT SAME DAYTIME
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
HAPPEN APPEAR SEE
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer,
SMALL SLEIGH AND EIGHT TINY REINDEER
With a little old driver, so lively and quick, I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
WITH SHORT OLD DRIVE EXCITED QUICK KNEW SANTA MUST
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
FAST SAME BIRDS REINDEER CAME
And he whistled, and shouted, and called by name:
SANTA WHISTLE SHOUT SAID NAME:
“Now Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen! On Comet! On, Cupid! On Donder and Blitzen!”
(you will need to fingerspell each name here unless you have pre-established sign names for each reindeer) NOW D-A-S-H-E-R NOW D-A-N-C-E-R NOW P-R-A-N-C-E-R NOW V-I-X-E-N GO C-O-M-E-T GO D-O-N-D-E-R ONWARD B-L-I-T-Z-E-N
“To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!”
GO TOP PORCH WALL
“Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”
GO GO GO
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly
SAME DRY LEAVES WIND BLOW LIKE HURRICANE
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
THEY REINDEER FLY THROUGH SKY
So up to the housetop the coursers they flew,
UP TOP HOUSE REINDEER FLY
With a sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas, too.
SLEIGH FULL TOYS SANTA TOO
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
HAPPEN I HEAR ON ROOF
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
REINDEER then gesture like reindeer lifting up and down their feet
As I drew my head and was turning around, Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
HEAD MINE TURN LOOK SANTA COME DOWN CHIMNEY
He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot,
SANTA DRESSED COMPLETE FUR
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
CLOTHES SANTA DIRTY spell A-S-H-E-S spell S-O-O-T
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
BIG BAG TOYS ON BACK
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
LOOK-SAME OLD-MAN OPEN BAG
His eye, how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
EYES HIS TWINKLE (point to cheek to show where dimple is) MERRY
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
CHEEK SAME ROSE, NOSE SAME CHERRY
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
LITTLE MOUTH SMILE
And the beard on his chin was white as the snow.
BEARD HIS COLOR WHITE SAME SNOW
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath.
PIPE (bite down) TEETH, SMOKE (going around your head) SAME WREATH
He had a broad face and a little round belly that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
SANTA FACE WIDE, ROUND BELLY SHAKE (this would be better acted out like a big belly out the front and then shaking it up and down)
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
SANTA FAT HAPPY OLD ELF
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
I LAUGH HAPPEN I SAW HIM
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head, Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
SANTA WINK (turn your head) I KNOW SAFE FEAR NONE
He spoke not a word, but went straight to work,
SANTA SAY NOTHING STARTED WORK WORK WORK
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk,
FILL SOCKS QUICK (gesture like turning around)
And laying his finger aside of his nose, And gave a nod, up the chimney he rose.
(Touch your nose, nod head) UP CHIMNEY SANTA GO
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
SANTA IN SLEIGH JUMP, WHISTLE TO REINDEER, AWAY THEY GO
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight---“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
BUT I HEAR SANTA SAY, MERRY-CHRISTMAS TO ALL AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT!
Get the Pre-Built Word List for this Book!
I hope that through this The Night Before Christmas pre-built word list you will feel confident to share this classic with your children.
Word List for The Night Before Christmas
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