“Old Christmas” by Washington Irving – Review

BY: Angie Haddock


Old Christmas is a tale of the quaint and old English traditions of celebrating Christmas. Irving travels to the English countryside and meets an old schoolmate, who invites him home to spend Christmas at the family estate.

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I’m a big fan of Christmas, but admittedly I’d never read much Christmas-related material. There’s no time like the present, though?

If the name Washington Irving sounds familiar, it’s because he wrote “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” He was American, but this story takes place in England.

The first part is the author/narrator philosophizing on how great old Christmas traditions were, many of which were falling out of fashion. (One has to wonder what he’d think of Christmas today!) The story is told in first person, and the narrator is traveling. He comments on the scenery and other travelers, and then is invited by one Frank Bracebridge to join him at his father’s estate to celebrate Christmas the “old-fashioned” way.

The rest of the story goes through the festivities of the night of their arrival, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. There are many foods and drinks described – did you ever want to know what goes in wassail? – as well as clothes, songs, and church outings.

Some charming passages:

“…they bring with them the flavour of those honest days of yore, in which, perhaps with equal fallacy, I am apt to think the world was more home-bred, social, and joyous than at present.”

“I do not know a grander effect of music on the moral feelings than to hear the full choir and pealing organ performing a Christmas anthem in a cathedral, and filling every part of the vast pile with triumphant harmony.”

“If, however, I can by any lucky 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 my reader more in good humour with his fellow-beings and himself, surely, surely, I shall not have written in vain.”

As is always the case when reading an older text, there were various words I had to look up. But something else I found interesting was that, once upon a time in England, Christmas had been banned! (Read more about that here and here, if you’re so inclined.) I find this whole thing funny, since so many overly-enthusiastic evangelicals think there’s a “war on Christmas” in our times.

This is a short read and, as long as you’re ok with some old language, a sweet and warm little story.


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