Old Christmas

Author: Washington Irving

Published By: Public Domain Books

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


                Around this time of year, I look for books, movies, music and animated specials to put me in the holiday spirit in time for Christmas.  It was with that intent that I searched for a classic Christmas tale and came across Washington Irving’s Old Christmas.  I knew about Irving’s Halloween tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but had never heard about a Christmas tale by the famous author.  The price was free, so I considered it quite a bargain.

                Old Christmas is really not a true Christmas tale, but an essay of sorts.  Washington Irving discusses his experience celebrating Christmas in England with a family who believes in celebrating the more traditional aspects of the holiday.  In this family, Christmas is a holiday that lasts days, featuring religious masses, a parade, the wassail bowl, singing, the Yule Log and more. 

                The story is both a social commentary on how Christmas is celebrated within the upper and lower classes and a discussion of how Christmas traditions are going by the wayside.  Traditions of old are long forgotten.  For example, does anyone know what a Yule Log really is and the tradition of how one is to be lit?  What is a wassail?  People remember Halloween parades, but who remembers that there were once Christmas parades?

                While I could appreciate the loss of Christmas traditions to commercial aspects of the holiday, I can’t help but think that things were left out of my edition of the book.  I downloaded this addition and noticed that when Irving spoke of songs being sung or poems being recited, a colon appears, but the poem or song is missing.  I believe that these songs and poems were important to the telling of this story and the fact that these were missing took away from the tale.  I did, however, enjoy the footnotes that provided even more information about the various traditions of an Old English Christmas.

                I found that the story dragged a bit, but Old Christmas – if you can get a hold of a more complete version than the one I downloaded – is worth the read if only to learn about the older traditions of Christmas in England, some of which we still carry out today.


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