Some of the most charming recollections of Christmas past were written by the American author Washington Irving (1783-1859) for The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. , first published in seven parts in 1819-1820. The section that is now called "Old Christmas" was based on notes Irving made while visiting England from 1805-1815 (think of it as an American's view of Regency England.) He was particularly intrigued by the old traditions and celebrations of a large country house called Bracebridge Hall, traditions which even in the early 19th c. were being regarded as part of a fading past. Irving's descriptions influenced Charles Dickens, who, a generation later, wrote his own version of Christmas past in A Christmas Carol.
It seems in the spirit of both the season and the Two Nerdy History Girls to feature a few selections from "Old Christmas" this week. The happiest holidays to you all!
"The [Christmas Eve] dance, like most dances after supper, was a merry one; some of the older folks joined in it, and the Squire himself figured down several couples with a partner with whom he affirmed he had danced at every Christmas for nearly half-a-century. Master Simon, who seemed to be a kind of connecting link between the old times and the new, and to be withal a little antiquated in the taste of his accomplishments, evidently piqued himself on his
dancing, and was endeavouring to gain credit by the heel and toe, rigadoon, and other graces of the ancient school; but he had unluckily assorted himself with a little romping girl from boarding-school, who, by her wild vivacity, kept him continually on the stretch, and defeated all his sober attempts at elegance; such are the ill-assorted matches to which antique gentleman are unfortunately prone!"
Illustrations for "Old Christmas" by Randolph Caldecott, 1875.