The Charm of a Merry Christmas; Thank you Washington Irving

I know that I am not unique. There are numerous Christmastiders, as I have dubbed them. Those folks that can’t wait to decorate and decorate, and decorate. We love to fill our homes with the sights sounds and smells of Christmas. And then we don’t want it to end and are happy to wait out the twelve days to January fifth to put it all away.

We love the warmth and glowing feeling it gives us. That magical time when we step into a Christmas story. We are Meg, Jo, Amy, and Marmie gathered around Beth at the piano.

We are playing games in the Nephew’s parlor while Ebeneezer Scrooge looks on. Or perhaps we have donned our cap and gown and are peering out the window searching the skies for the silhouette of a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.

Indeed it was a story that stirred the imaginations of the authors of other stories and touched their sensitivities that gave us the visions of sugar plums that have snowballed into the richness, beauty, and sparkle of our present-day traditions.

In his 1809 book A History of New York, Washington Irving weaves mentions of the Saint Nicholaus throughout; from the description of the Saint carved into the mast of the Dutch ship that brought the old sage, Oloffe the dreamer, to this country, to the many dreams where the Saint advised him concerning the matters of Communipaw and New Amsterdam.

Near the opening of the book, narrated by the landlord of the Independent Columbian Hotel, Deidrich Knickerbocker, an old gentleman comes for a long stay. He spends his days “attending ward meetings and committee rooms” and is able to illuminate the neighbors and landlady of the hotel on the political matters of the day. We might feel that those matters weren’t so different from our own as we consider the words of the worthy old Olaffe, “ ...the two parties were like two rogues each tugging at a skirt of the nation; and that in the end they would tear the very coat off its back, and expose its nakedness.”

During these times, Christmas is a welcome diversion from the bitterness and antagonism; where somehow people have kinder feelings and a more jovial spirit. The spirit kindled in us is reflective of the ideas and sentiments penned into verse that found itself translated into the celebrations in our homes and communities today .

Returning to Irving’s history, we find Oloffe describing one of his dreams that bears resemblance to a future story.

In another chapter in one of Oloffe’s adventures he dreamed another dream- “and lo the good St, Nicholas came riding over the tops of the trees, in the self-same wagon wherein he brings his yearly presents to children, and he descended hard by where the heroes of Communipaw had made their late repast. And the shrewd Van Kortlandt knew him by his broad hat, his long pipe, and the resemblance which he bore of the bow of the Goede Vrouw. And he lit his pipe by the fire and he sat himself down and smoked; and as he smoked the smoke from his pipe ascended into the air and spread like a cloud overhead. And the sage Oloffe bethought him, and he hastened and climbed up to the top of one of the tallest trees, and saw that the smoke spread over a great extent of country – and as he considered it more attentively, he fancied that the great volume of smoke assumed a variety of marvelous forms, where in dim obscurity he saw shadowed out palaces and domes and lofty spires, all which lasted but a moment and then faded away, until the whole rolled off and nothing but the green woods were left. And when St. Nicholas had smoked his pipe, he twisted it in his hatband, and laying his finger beside his nose gave the astonished Van Kortlandt a very significant look; then mounting his wagon he returned over the tree tops and disappeared."

Surely Clement Clarke Moore was inspired by Irving’s depiction of the Saint when he wrote the famous poem A Visit From St. Nicholaus.

Each writer inspired others and their stories inspired the readers and the readers paint the pictures of Christmas in their own homes through traditions of storytelling, decorations and visits from Santa.

Even non-Christians and non-religious people can’t resist the charm of Christmas. Some decorate their homes and participate in some of the festivities of the season. Here my Jewish daughter-in -law(left) poses with her award winning chocolate version of a gingerbread house.

Because who can resist? In the words of Washington Irving himself;

“He who can turn churlishly away from contemplating the felicity of his fellow beings, and can sit down darkling and repining in his loneliness when all around is joyful, may have his moments of strong excitement and selfish gratification, but he wants the genial and social sympathies which constitute the charm of a merry Christmas.”

Washington Irving died November 28, 1859 This November 28th, Thanksgiving day is the 160th anniversary of his death. we will be honoring his contribution by making P.E. Pence’s kindle version of Christmas Coal available for free on Thanksgiving day 2019. Read it to your family Thanksgiving eve or evening to bring in the Christmas season with the warmth of a tender story.

Other books by P.E.Pence

12 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All