Saturday, December 17, 2016


Here we go again - I forgot to post this yesterday. This is another piece I wrote for our community magazine.  It was published this month, along with an article and pictures on a Dickens Village collector.

Not Dickens, but a dapper Washington Irving

Yes, what the Dickens.* Many believe Charles Dickens to be the first author to celebrate Christmas in literature. Not so. Dickens credited Washington Irving. Washington Irving, who, in turn, credited another source, was born in Manhattan in 1783, the same week the American Revolution ended. We know him best for his two most famous stories, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. What is not well known about Irving is that one of his collections, The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., the collection written around 1820 that contained The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, also contained five Christmas stories. These stories, later published separately and called Old Christmas Sketches, were the later inspiration for the Christmas festivities portrayed by Dickens in his 1843 novel A Christmas Carol. Earlier, in 1812, when revising A History of New York, Irving inserted a tale about a dream he’d had about Saint Nicholas soaring over the treetops in a flying sled. Sound a bit familiar? The dream idea, it’s said, can be found in that of Ebenezer Scrooge, and the flying wagon in “a sleigh full of toys and St. Nicholas too.”

Irving had his own inspiration from the notes he made while traveling in England and Europe for two years in the very early 1800’s. During one holiday he stayed at Aston Hall in Birmingham, England. Surely it was then he came upon The Vindication of Christmas, written in 1652, telling of the festivities and customs of the era. Irving’s Old Christmas Sketches idealized the traditions and made them popular among the new Americans who then revived many of the customs that had been forgotten over the previous two centuries. Though now part of the holidays, and introduced from Germany to England by Prince Albert in 1841, the Christmas tree didn’t make an appearance in A Christmas Carol. That work though, published the same year as the first printed Christmas card in England, did revive many other lost customs there too.

Imagine having to have a place to store all this, and having to set it all up,
and then take it all down? It's a labor of love that I wouldn't love to do.

On both sides of the Atlantic, Dickens’ works were much more widespread and popular than Irving’s. Basically, this is the reason we talk today about a Dickensian Christmas, or collect “Dickens Village” figurines. In December, we wonder as we wander through many a city or town’s creation of a Dickens Village of shops, crafts, foods and beverages. Alas, none of them are named for the American, Washington Irving.

*From The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act III, Scene II,   by William Shakespeare 

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