What is your favourite Christmas tradition? Decorating the tree, exchanging cards, or even the simple greeting of “Merry Christmas”? Did you ever stop to think how these ideas took hold and came to be so cherished? Storytellers have had much influence in not only restoring long lost Christmas traditions but also in totally re-inventing them. Following are two examples of authors from a myriad whose beloved characters stepped out of their simple stories and changed history.
The Sketch-book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent
In 1819 an American author, Washington Irving, wrote a series of short stories, essays, and poems, five of which were Christmas themed about a squire who invited peasants to his English Country Manor home. This was not a common practice of the day. In fact, Christmas had fallen into ill-repute and was being celebrated by debauchery and raucous partying. Irving felt that at Christmas, the boundaries of wealth and social status should be crossed and all people should enjoy goodwill in harmony. In Irving’s tales, the people celebrated many fun “ancient traditions” that he made up for the story. Readers began to think these traditions had always existed and so they began to practice them in their own homes as they too opened up their
In Irving’s tales, the people celebrated many fun “ancient traditions” that he made up for the story. Readers began to think these traditions had always existed and so they began to practice them in their own homes as they too opened up their hearth for those less fortunate. The celebrations enjoyed in Irving’s story were just fictional, but they became a real and ongoing part of Christmas in England and soon North America from then on. And all because of a story!
A Christmas Carol
A few years later, in 1843, Charles Dickens wrote his famous Christmas story in England. He acknowledged Irving as an influence. The Victorian elite were not in the habit of lavishing attention and gifts on their children, but Dickens’ story nudged them into a new age. They began to ease up on their strict and disciplined lifestyle, especially at Christmastime.
Dickens’ story also moved the employers of London to show more kindness. Some even began to give their employees Christmas Day off as a recognized holiday. The transformation that Dickens envisioned in Scrooge, from miserly and self-consumed to generous and merciful, changed government policy in the working environments of England and later, Canada.
Dickens has been credited with coining our greeting, “Merry Christmas,” and also for restoring Christmas to a meaningful, joyous, and compassionate celebration. It has been said that people returned to church, and were overcome with such joy and kindness that their voices were heard on the streets calling greetings and goodwill to all, regardless of their station in life. And all because of a story!
Our insightful authors, Irving and Dickens, observed the downfall of their society and wrote entertaining stories about a restored way of life. What new tradition would you like to see happen at Christmas? What change needs to happen in our homes, in society, in our workplaces, or at the top levels of government? Envision it in a story. Live it out through a character. See it become reality. History could change. And all because of your story!
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.
~ Washington Irving
If Pam could spend all day in her kitchen baking pies, brownies, and making turkey dinner for friends, she would. But Murray Pura once told her to write first and then bake—advice that she is trying to stick with these days, except, of course, when her grandchildren stop in for milk and cookies.