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Unwrapping the Enchantment: Collecting and Sharing a Holiday Classic

Judy Nixon

Judy Nixon, Purdue librarian of 34 years and passionate scholar and collector of “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” also known as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”, embarked on a lifelong journey that began with a simple term paper. Judy and her husband, C. Robert Nixon III, had recently returned from their service in the U.S. Peace Corps in the Kingdom of Tonga, and they were adjusting to life in the United States while pursuing their studies at the University of Iowa.

During her studies, Judy faced a challenging assignment in her children’s literature class on Clement Moore, the author of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Judy embraced this assignment, drawing from fond childhood memories of reading the poem with her five siblings.

Judy’s visit to the University of Iowa’s library exposed her to diverse interpretations of the beloved Christmas poem, sparking her passion for collecting. The first edition added to their collection, illustrated by Elisa Trimby and set in Cornwall, England, set the pattern for future acquisitions. Each year, she and Bob eagerly searched for newly published editions, making the first present of Christmas a new version of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” read on Christmas Eve.

Judy was fascinated by the various interpretations of Santa Claus and the magical world he inhabited by different illustrators. From farms and ranches to New York City apartments and quiet Midwest neighborhoods, the depictions allowed readers to journey into the world of imagination.

Among all the editions, Judy cherished an antique book the most, a Christmas gift from Bob in 1979. Illustrated by four artists in black and white drawings and bound in purple velvet, it marked a significant addition to their collection. This antique edition initiated their quest to scour used bookstores for old editions, demonstrating the couple’s commitment to preserving the historical significance of the poem.

Judy’s dedication to preserving and sharing the magic of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” reached its pinnacle when she decided to generously gift her extensive collection of illustrated editions to Purdue University’s Archives and Special Collections. Recognizing the historical and educational value of her carefully curated assortment, Judy wanted to ensure that the next generation of educators and researchers at Purdue could benefit from the rich tapestry of artistic interpretations surrounding this timeless Christmas tale.

Judy’s generous gift allows Purdue students to study the poem and its impact on Christmas traditions, decorations, and toys over the past two centuries. Moreover, the collection serves as a valuable resource for studying major illustrators, especially American illustrators. It allows students to explore different editions and compare their interpretations of this classic Christmas tale.

Judy’s commitment to her field extended beyond her own projects and interests. She tirelessly worked to model and promote the value of librarians, becoming a beacon for her colleagues and inspiring multiple generations of future librarians. Her mentoring efforts created a legacy that went beyond the pages of books, influencing the professional growth of those who followed in her footsteps.

In 1989, Judy received the prestigious John H. Moriarty Award for Excellence in Library Service, a testament to her outstanding contributions to the field. Her recognition as a professor of library science in 2009 highlighted not only her expertise but also her significant impact on library education. The American Library Association honored her upon her retirement in 2021, acknowledging the profound influence she had on the library community.

Judy’s love for literature and dedication to education went hand in hand with her role as a librarian. Her advocacy for printed children’s books during the COVID pandemic showcased her foresight and commitment to preserving traditional formats. She established a Children’s Literature Endowment with Libraries at Purdue University to help provide books for children and promote the enduring importance of physical books, especially for students in the College of Education.

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