Classic Christmas Stories: Washington Irving’s “The Sketchbook”

Classic Christmas Stories: Washington Irving’s “The Sketchbook”

But is old, old, good old Christmas gone?
Nothing but the hair of his good, gray, old head and beard left?
Well, I will have that, seeing I cannot have more of him.
~ in “Christmas” by Washington Irving

Irving bookThe Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., commonly referred to as The Sketch Book, is a collection of 34 essays and short stories written by American author Washington Irving and published serially throughout 1819 and 1820. The collection includes two of Irving’s best-known stories “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle”. It also marks Irving’s first use of the pseudonym “Geoffrey Crayon” which he would continue to employ throughout his literary career.

Of the 34 essays, five are Christmas themed. Christmas, The Stage Coach, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Christmas Dinner. Written and published in January of 1820, these five essays significantly influenced American culture. Irving’s stories depicted an idealized and old-fashioned Yule celebration at an English country manor, a recounting of the harmonious warm-hearted English Christmas customs he observed while staying at Aston Hall in Birmingham, England. Irving used the tract Vindication of Christmas (London 1652) of Old English Christmas traditions that he had transcribed into his journal as a format for his stories. Except for Pennsylvania German Settlers, (who were enthusiastic celebrants of Christmas) Irving contributed to a revival of old-fashioned Christmas customs in America. Charles Dickens later credited Irving as an influence on his own Christmas writings, including the classic A Christmas Carol.


A man might then behold
At Christmas, in each hall
Good fires to curb the cold,
And meat for great and small.
The neighbors were friendly bidden,
And all had welcome true,
The poor from the gates were not chidden
When this old cap was new.

Perhaps the impending holiday might have given a more than usual animation to the country, for it seemed to me as if everybody was in good looks and good spirits. Game, poultry, and other luxuries of the table were in brisk circulation in the villages; the grocers’, butchers’, and fruiterers’ shops were thronged with customers. The housewives were stirring briskly about, putting their dwellings in order, and the glossy branches of holly with their bright-red berries began to appear at the windows. The scene brought to mind an old writer’s account of Christmas preparation: “Now capons and hens, besides turkeys, geese, and ducks, with beef and mutton, must all die, for in twelve days a multitude of people will not be fed with a little. Now plums and spice, sugar and honey, square it among pies and broth. Now or never must music be in tune, for the youth must dance and sing to get them a heat, while the aged sit by the fire. The country maid leaves half her market, and must be sent again if she forgets a pack of cards on Christmas Eve. Great is the contention of holly and ivy whether master or dame wears the breeches. Dice and cards benefit the butler; and if the cook do not lack wit, he will sweetly lick his fingers.”
~ in “The Stage Coach” by Washington Irving

Irving poem

 Now Christmas is come,
Let us beat up the drum,
And call all our neighbors together;
And when they appear,
Let us make them such cheer,
As will keep out the wind and the weather, etc.
~ in “Christmas Eve” by Washington Irving

Irving churchI have seldom known a sermon attended apparently with more immediate effects, for on leaving the church the congregation seemed one and all possessed with the gayety of spirit so earnestly enjoined by their pastor. The elder folks gathered in knots in the churchyard, greeting and shaking hands, and the children ran about crying Ule! Ule! and repeating some uncouth rhymes, which the parson, who had joined us, informed me had been handed down from days of yore. The villagers doffed their hats to the squire as he passed, giving him the good wishes of the season with every appearance of heartfelt sincerity, and were invited by him to the hall to take something to keep out the cold of the weather; and I heard blessings uttered by several of the poor, which convinced me that, in the midst of his enjoyments, the worthy old cavalier had not forgotten the true Christmas virtue of charity.
~ in “Christmas Day” by Washington Irving

The brown bowle,
The merry brown bowle,
As it goes round-about-a,
Let the world say what it will,
And drink your fill all out-a.

The deep canne,
The merry deep canne,
As thou dost freely quaff-a,
Be as merry as a king,
And sound a lusty laugh-a.
~ in “Christmas Dinner” by Washington Irving


The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon is in the public domain so can be found in a dozen places for easy reading and/or download. A simple Google search will yield results but here are a few links to help.

Read Online links:

Audio & Download:


For the Christmas essays only there are also many options. My favorite is the online, easy download in numerous optional formats (including audio) —

Old Christmas Irving
*click image for link

Old Christmas : from the Sketch book of Washington Irving

This book, published in 1886 and illustrated by Randolph Caldecott, chronicles the American writer Washington Irving’s nostalgic recollections of Christmas traditions in 19th century England. This is a lovely edition. Link:

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