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Monday, December 21, 2009

Old Christmas by Washington Irving~★★★★★

Author: Washington Irving
Title:
Old Christmas: From the Sketch Book of Washington Irving, Illustrated by R. Caldecott
Release Date:
First released 1875; this edition is the 4th ed. reprinted in 1925
Publisher:
Macmillan & Co: London
Genre:
Non-fiction

First Paragraph: "There is nothing in England that exercises a more delightful spell over my imagination than the lingerings of the holiday customs and rural games of former times. They recall the pictures my fancy used to draw in the May morning of life, when as yet I only knew the world through books, and believed it to be all that poets had painted it; and they bring with them the flavour of those honest days of yore, in which, perhaps with equal fallacy, I am apt to think the world was more home-bred, social, and joyous than at present. I regret to say that they are daily growing more and more faint, being gradually worn away by time, but still more obliterated by modern fashion. They resemble those picturesque morsels of Gothic architecture which we see crumbling in various parts of the country, partly dilapidated by the waste of ages, and partly lost in the additions and alterations of latter days. Poetry, however, clings with cherishing fondness about the rural game and holiday revel, from which it has derived so many of its themes---as the ivy winds its rich foliage about the Gothic arch and mouldering tower, gratefully repaying their support by clasping together their tottering remains, and, as it were, embalming them in verdure."

Taryn's Review: I have a thing for old, lonely, beat-up books tucked deep between shiny new books on the library book shelf. A faded glint of gold caught my eye, and on the maroon binding I saw in fancy scroll the title Old Christmas. The book itself was just plain maroon and rather small, but I felt immediately attached to it and added it to my bag.

The story itself is fun. Irving talked about how much times have changed, especially among the new generation at Christmas (sound familiar?). The main story of the book was about a past Christmas when he was invited by his friend to celebrate the holiday at his friend's family's old manor in the country. The host of the festivities, The Squire, was hellbent on keeping old traditions alive and explained many of them to Irving along the way. The book was divided into 3 sections: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Christmas Dinner. Some of the traditions are lost today, but were enjoyable to read about. I've heard of Wassail and Yule Log, for example, but it was much more exciting to read about them in context rather than just having it explained to me for what it was.

The book can be a challenge on the vocabulary front, but I enjoyed it and learned some new words along the way. I loved Irving's writing style and Caldecott's pictures only made the book that much more quaint and wonderful.

The book doesn't have a lesson; it was about a festive, jovial, wonderful English Christmas memory and also passed along some Christmas traditions that Irving enjoyed being a part of. It's not going to be for everyone, trust me on that, but if you have an open mind, I would highly suggest this little Christmas gem. Irving Washington played a large role in the creation of an idealized Christmas, so you can see the roots of our modern celebrations firmly planted in this book.

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