Old Christmas by Washington Irving


Old Christmas
Washington Irving
Published 1876
American Literature

Old Christmas, written by American author Washington Irving, is a collection of five short stories about the disappearing traditions of Christmas. Following are not necessarily spoilers, although I share some specifics; but rather, Old Christmas is more of an experience, to which everyone will have his own. You have to read it to know what I mean. 


In this first chapter, Irving described the meaning of Christmas, that he liked to "linger on the holiday customs" of old. He had "romanticized imaginations" and regretted that they were fading from time.
I am apt to think the world was more home-bred, social, and joyous than at present. 

Irving said that Christmas festivals were the fondest; "solemn and sacred feelings blended conviviality and lifted spirits." Christmas was a time when families drew closer together, calling back (adult children) home to the "paternal hearth," to return to their youth and recall loving memories of childhood. During Christmas, as in winter, people stayed close to and depended upon their social circles more.

Heart calleth unto heart: and we draw our pleasures from the deep wells of living kindness, which lie in the quiet recesses of our bosoms; and which, when resorted to, furnish forth the pure element of domestic felicity.

 Christmas is a "general call to happiness. What bosom can remain insensible?" It is a season of hospitality and "genial flame of charity in the heart." 


In this second chapter, the fictional narrator, American Geoffrey Crayon, traveling by public coach while in England, was invited to the family home of a friend to stay for the Christmas festivities. The coach ride gave the reader a view of Yorkshire on Christmas Eve, of joyful passengers visiting relatives for the holidays, excited to return home. 


The narrator described the manner of hospitality displayed by the host, which put him at ease. There were dancing and singing, including a band that played music under the window of his sleeping quarters as he went off to sleep. 


On Christmas Day, the children of the home sang at the bedroom door of the waking guests. There were family prayers and morning service. They all walked to church together. Christmas Day was a day of giving thanks and rejoicing. 

Be merry and thankful, feast poor neighbors great and small.

The parson delivered a sermon -- the case for Christmas rites and ceremonies, as supported by the earliest saints; though the narrator was convinced that no congregant seemed to need any evidence. The Parson blamed the Puritans for their attack upon Christmas, when  they drove it from the land, along with mince pie and plum porridge; and "roast beef as antiChristian." Only after two hundred years, Christmas returned with King Charles at the Restoration when he declared to "feast and make merry on this joyful anniversary of the church." It was evident, at the close of church, that no one had forgotten the true Christmas virtue of charity. 

On the trek home, the sunny day warmed the "chills of selfishness and thawed the heart into a flow of hospitality." Both poor and rich keep Christmas, making them equal. At one time, the rich opened their homes to the poor, but it became too sketchy; instead, the wealthy delivered food to the poor that they may celebrate in their own homes.


Back at the family estate, there were games, music, conversation, stories, laughter, dancing, and eating. There was even Christmas mummery with costumes for all. Lots of merriment, revelry, and mirth! These "fleeting customs were posting fast into oblivion..." and Irving paused to address the reader's quiet thought, 

To what purpose is all this? - how is the world to be made wiser by all this talk?

And here is the point of Irving's testimonial to Christmas past: 

If I can by chance, in these days of evil, rub out one wrinkle from the brow of care, or beguile the heavy heart of one moment of sorrow; if I can now and then penetrate through the gathering film of misanthropy, prompt a benevolent view of human nature, and make ye reader more in good humor with his fellow-beings and himself, surely I shall not then have written entirely in vain. 


While reading this, I could not help but think of A Christmas Carol and Charles Dickens, as a little research confirmed that Dickens was a fan of Washington Irving and greatly influenced by these stories when he wrote A Christmas Carol, in 1843. And apparently, Irving is responsible, in part, for bringing Christmas traditions to America. 


My first thought was that Old Christmas was a sweet, joyous, and delightful rendezvous with Christmas past. This was such a pleasure to read, especially given the days before us.

My next thought was of the absence of stress. If Christmas were only preoccupied with the traditions presented in Old Christmas, I would not lose one ounce of joy. I could do without shopping, traffic, crowds, giving Jeff Bezos more of my money, and getting more stuff. While giving gifts is absolutely joyful; if it were never part of Christmas, I wouldn't miss it. I would prefer to focus on family and friends, enjoying company, signing, dancing, playing games, walking to church together, and definitely partaking in a Christmas mummery. 

But...it's not only up to me, and my family would think I was a nutcase if I suggested a Christmas mummery. LOL!

Speaking of mummeries...many years ago, our homeschool group performed a Christmas mummery during our Medieval year/Christmas Medieval feast, in which we performed all of those great Medieval Christmas traditions, and is why I am so fond of these old traditions. 

Merry Christmas!!


  1. Sigh! It does sound so lovely, doesn't it? But I don't think we'll ever get Christmas such as that back again. And yes, I would love less stress and more enjoyment. I love reading these old Christmas stories! I hope you have a few more Christmas reviews coming up!

    1. I'm afraid you are right. :( However, individuals and families CAN resurrect these traditions. All it takes is an enthusiastic family leader and willing hearts. :) I do plan to read A Christmas Carol, but not really sure I'll do ANOTHER review on my blog. :D

    2. The village Christmas, unfortunately, does require a village...and these days we're more isolated households and screaming mobs. I think Ruth is right, though. A remnant can always keep traditions alive -- just look at Judaism! Widely persecuted, intensely hated, the subject of uncountable conspiracies, and yet it has outlived adversary after adversary.

    3. Screaming mobs, definitely!! LOL!!!

  2. Irving's comment about the puritans struck a chord with me..I'm reading a book about Christmas in Alabama, and the author mentions that the South embraced Christmas far more readily than the north.

    1. Hmmm, interesting. I wonder what period that is that you are reading. Since I haven't done much reading on Christmas in America, I am only going by bits and pieces of info; however, I do know that the Puritans and Protestants disliked Christmas celebrations bc they were too Pagan and what Catholics practiced. But at some point, that all changed - I just don't know when.

    2. The assertion came from a contemporary journalist, not an historian, so I don't know how much credence to put to it! The question might be worth looking into if I weren't already chasing so many other rabbits..

  3. Lovely...I hadn't heard of this. I may read it for my Christmas selection next year.

    1. You'll appreciate this, as it has a Dickens feel. No wonder there was a connection (Dickens was inspired by Old Christmas!), only I thought it was the other way around. LOL!

  4. I must have this collection because I have a complete set of Irving. Now to look it up. What a great Christmas season read!

    1. It was delightful. AND it is a short read. Someone said they read it in four hours. If I had four hours, it may have only taken that long for me, too.