Why are Sugar Plums a Christmas topic?
Every year around the Christmas holidays the question comes up, "What is a sugar plum?"
The simple response would be a small fruit confection rolled in sugar. While there are actual fruits known as sugar plums, most references to sugar plums are relating to various types of candied fruits.
The basic concept of the sugar plum is preserving fruits with sugar allowing them to be enjoyed all year round, much like canning vegetables, or salting meats is used to preserve foods for year round consumption.
Sugar Plums and Their Connection to the Christmas Holiday Season
The mention of sugar plums in recipes starts around the 17th century, which coincided with the increased popularity of sugar in Europe and the New World. This also fits the time line for the mention of sugar plums as Christmas treats in two holiday classics.
The famous Christmas poem written in the early 1800s, "A Visit from St. Nicholas", also known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" includes the line, "The children were nestled all snug in their beds, While visions of sugar plums danc'd in their heads."
Tchaikovsky's 1882 ballet The Nutcracker Suite included "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" which would forever associate the sugar plum with the holiday season as well.
Clement Clarke Moore and Sugar Plums
According to legend, on Christmas Eve 1822, Clement Moore's wife was roasting turkeys for the poor, when she sent the Reverend off to the market to buy an extra turkey. His trip to the market, into what is now the Bowery section of New York City, inspired him to write a poem that created the American image of Santa Claus, and detailed the typical household of the era at Christmas time. The poem was published anonymously on December 23, 1823, under the editor's title "A Visit from St. Nicholas".
The poem became one of the most widely read in the world, and the line, "while visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads" was sure to give a boost to the legend of sugar plums as well for years to come.
In Search of the Real Author of "A Visit from St. Nicholas"
While the poem describes the vision of sugar plums, there is reason to believe the sugar plums were not those of Clement Clarke Moore.
Don Foster, an English professor at Vassar College, and a forensic linguist used by the FBI in many famous cases such as the "Unabomber manifesto" sites evidence to conclude that the poem's spirit and style are starkly at odds with the body of Clement Clarke Moore's other writings and that Major Henry Livingston, Jr. is the true author of "A Visit from St. Nicholas."
Since the release of his book Author Unknown in 2000, many institutions, such as the University of Toronto, support Foster's claim, listing Major Henry Livingston, Jr. as the author of "A Visit from St. Nicholas."
Tchaikovsky's "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy"
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a Russian composer best known for the 1812 Overture, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker.
The Nutcracker is a celebration of Christmas in a two act ballet. The twenty minute suite from Act II of the ballet written by Tchaikovsky is known as "The Land of Sweets."
Tchaikovsky's depiction of the Sugar Plum Fairy as the ruler of "The Land of Sweets" would support the conclusion that he saw sugar plums as a very special Christmas treat.
Christmas Classics and Sugar Plums
"A Visit from St. Nicholas" written by Englishman from New England, and "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" written by a Russian Composer both connect sugar plums to the Christmas holiday season.
Two very famous people forever linked together in history by Christmas and sugar plums, seem to be totally unrelated.
During his lifetime Tchaikovsky wandered around Europe and rural Russia, there is no mention of him having any connection to America.
Clement Clarke Moore, a wealthy Manhattan biblical scholar, was long dead before the writing of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. Without the internet, communications between Russia and America, between two unrelated individuals was highly unlikely in the 19th century.
Even if you believe that Major Henry Livingston, Jr. is the true author of "A Visit from St. Nicholas, " that does not change things as far as a connection to the Russian Composer. Livingston, like Moore, was a life long resident of New England, and died before Tchaikovsky was born. So even if arguably Livingston is the author of the poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas", it is just as unlikely Tchaikovsky would have ever known of Livingston.
No conspiracy theories to be found
With nothing in common, other than the era in which they both lived, the 19th century, perhaps two totally unrelated events are related by a more simpler truth, sweet treats are commonly associated with the Christmas holiday.