Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

I Am Not Making This Up: That Time The Guy Who Wrote Sleepy Hollow Saved Christmas

Written By: Tracy - Dec• 11•17

Some ideas are simply timely ideas. Which might explain all the competing patents for things like airplanes and radio. Saving Christmas was another timely idea.

I wrote two weeks ago about how Dickens’s A Christmas Carol created a popular movement that brought back Christmas as a family holiday. It was a little like Harry Potter had everyone dressing in old graduation gowns and calling themselves Gryffindors, only with more Christmas Turkey.

Another writer contemporary to Dickens who also helped to revive Christmas traditions- or in some cases invent them whole cloth – was Washington Irving. That’s right, the guy who wrote the Headless Horseman story helped to save Christmas.

Prior to the 19th century, Christmas was either forgotten, or treated as a holiday for adults (A drinking holiday). In Protestant areas, the holiday had been abandoned because it was Catholic, or something the early Catholic Church had co-opted from the Roman Pagans.

This is the landscape into which Irving started writing about Christmas. In 1809, Irving wrote the satyrical “Knickerbocker’s History Of New York,” in which he included several tall tales about the founding of the city. In one, “Good St. Nicholas” helps out a shipwrecked Dutch scouting party and points them to the Island of Manhattan as a good place to settle.

In 1819, he collected some of his essays and short stories into “The Sketch Book Of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.” The book contained both “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow,” which are the two stories that Irving is known for today. But the book also contained a number of stories and essays about or set during Christmastime.

while this was going on, Irving was living in England. He took note of some of the disappearing English Christmas traditions. Irving wrote about mistletoe, carols, holiday parties, the Christmas feast and the generosity of the host toward his guests.

Irving believed that these traditions should be preserved as a way to get us through the long, dark winter season.

In his essay “Christmas,” he wrote: “At other times we derive . . . Our pleasures from the mere beauties of nature. But in the depths of winter . . . We turn for our gratifications to moral sources.”

When people read Irving’s stories about Christmas, they warmed up to the idea of gathering as a family to mark the day. Manhattan had just experienced a Christmas riot, so rebranding Christmas as a quiet, family holiday seemed like a great idea.

Coming out of the era when children were treated like miniature adults and “seen and not heard,” parents liked the idea of having a day to give gifts and candy without looking like they were spoiling their children.

While Irving can’t be credited alone with saving Christmas, his work laid the foundation for later writers like Dickens and Clement Moore (who wrote “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” A.k.a. “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.”)

If you want to read The Sketchbook Of Geoffrey Crayon, it’s available on Project Gutenberg.

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