On 5th day of Christmas … I read Olaf’s Night Before Christmas #Frozen

(cover image courtesy Scholastic)

Does Kristoff have trenchant personal hygiene issues?

Is Sven moonlighting on Christmas eve as a sleigh-pulling reindeer hailing a strangely jolly bearded man in red through the sky?

And, most importantly because enquiring sentient snowman minds want to know, are the stockings hung by the chimney because they’re wet? Are they there for presents or a festively good drying?

Those, and so many other questions that you didn’t know needed answering, are explored in Olaf’s Night Before Christmas by Jessica Julius (with art by Olga T. Mosqueda) hilariously joyful Frozen take on A Visit From St Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore, which was published anonymously in 1823 (Moore claimed ownership in 1837) and is better known as either “The Night Before Christmas” and “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” after the first immortally-memorable first line of the poem.

It is, however you cut, an exuberantly offbeat and yet referential delight, much like garrulous Olaf himself whose zest for life, now he is in fact alive (thanks to the events of Frozen in 2013), is unparalleled.

As we saw in Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, this vivacious love for life means that our eternally carrot-nosed friend is really into Christmas too, and on this one night in particular, he goes into curiosity overdrive when he hears “such a clatter” just as he, Elsa and Anna are either fast asleep or snuggling into bed, numbered sheep in the air over the bed.

While certain stanzas have been taken from Moore’s poem, there is, as you might expect, a great deal of new poetic rhyming going on, especially since the book reflects much of Olaf’s gorgeously idiosyncratic sense of humour and untrammeled love of learning.

So while the poem begins much as you might expect …

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

It very quickly becomes very much its own appealing and decidedly 21st century Disney creature …

Stockings were hung by the chimney – but why?
Had they gotten too wet? Were they left there to dry?

It’s an imaginative pattern that continues through the book, as Julius merrily inserts her own beautifully-cadenced writing in-between Moore’s well-known lines, creating a charming tale in the process that is narrated on an accompanying CD, narrated by Josh Gad who voices Olaf, in both Frozen, the various follow-on cartoons and the just-released Frozen 2.

(cover image courtesy Scholastic)

The joy of Olaf’s Night Before Christmas, quite apart from the character’s unstinting enthusiasm for Christmas in all its glories, is watching as Olaf struggles to make sense of what he’s seeing out the window.

Is he witnessing “eight little Svens, flying high in the sky!” ? And is that “Kristoff … out for a ride?”

We all know it isn’t, of course, but Olaf doesn’t and seeing him slowly process what it is he’s seeing and hearing provides of the warmth and delight of a book where Santa is an unknown quantity and getting to know him, as Olaf does over a hug and some krumkake, is a thrillingly novel experience.

Take this invocation from Santa to his reindeers, which is intimately familiar to us but wholly strange to a confused Olaf.

“Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the turret and over the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away, all!”

Now, given all that new information, what would be your initial take away?

Would you wonder who this red-clothed man in a giant sleigh is, and why he has eight reindeer pulling him across the moonlit night sky? Or, would you like Olaf, ask yourself what a turret is? And yes, how can Svens fly?

He does, naturally enough, use on who the man might be but any questions are quickly subsumed as Santa comes down the chimney, his arrival described in amusingly Olaf fashion …

His boots were all black and his pants were all red,
But where was the rest of him? Where was his head?

This hilariously quirky telling of his arrival is followed by commentary on Kristoff’s oral hygiene practices and a deliciously evocative allusion to how wonderful Santa, with his “kind, crinkly eyes and a fluffy white beard” smells …

Kristoff he wasn’t; this man smelled too nice,
Like snowballs and cookies and Christmassy spice.

The sack of presents also stumps Olaf – “Was a sale going on at old Oaken’s big store?” – but he quickly recovers enough, post-dispersal of presents for Anna, Sven, Kristoff (deodorant, perhaps?) and Elsa, to ask for a hug from the big man which he duly receives.

Colour Olaf a fan, and us swept in the delight, much like we experience watching Christmas through a child’s wide-eyed wonder, of Olaf’s Night Before Christmas which is an unalloyed joyful piece of festive storytelling that makes adroit and affecting use of Moore’s classic poem while reminding how wondrously happy and delightful Christmas can be if we will only open our hearts to its considerable, huggable charms.

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