Washington Irving: How the ‘Father of Halloween’ also invented American Christmas celebrations


Washington Irving is known by most to be the father of Halloween with his iconic ghost story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” inspired by the New York village that neighbored his own in the Hudson Valley region of the state.

What most people don’t know, though, are his contributions to how Americans celebrate Christmas today.

Fox Nation ventured to the historic Hudson Valley this holiday season to explore Washington Irving’s home, hometown, and the inspiration for his timeless literary contributions to America.

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“Many people are not fully aware of his importance today,” said Hal Greenberg, Sunnyside tour guide who impersonated Irving for the special. “Not only was he one of the most popular authors of all time in the United States, he also mentored an entire generation of American authors that came after.”

Edgar Allen Poe, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson to name a few.

Born in Manhattan just a few years after the Declaration of Independence had been signed, Irving had come of age when America did – lending to the claims suggesting Washington Irving was America’s first storyteller. 

“He started the entire literary tradition of the United States, and he introduced American culture to the rest of the world.”

“One of the curious elements in studying the life and legacy of Washington Irving is that he’s not really known for his outstanding contribution to the celebration of American Christmas,” said Andrew Burstein of the LSU History Department. “…he is almost exclusively thought of as the progenitor of Halloween.”

Most Americans don’t realize, the special explores, that the Christmas we know and love was actually invented by Irving.

“…The version of Christmas that they think of, was first popularized by Washington Irving,” said Elizabeth Bradley, VP of Programs and Engagement in Historic Hudson Valley. “And, in fact, that he wrote about a classic English Christmas decades and decades before Charles Dickens ever did.”

Dickens, an English author widely regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian Era, penned literary classics like “A Christmas Carol.” The epic story of Ebenezer Scrooge cemented Charles Dickens as a storyteller and, for many, made his name synonymous with Christmas.

But his predecessor, Irving, described English Christmas customs much earlier in his The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, published two decades before the release of “A Christmas Carol” – descriptions that moved Dickens to the point of writing Irving a letter expressing his gratitude, with Dickens later recycling Irving’s descriptions in a scene from “Christmas Past” as an ode to his American inspiration. 

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And though many might consider Santa Claus to be the true Father of Christmas, Washington Irving’s “Old Christmas” had promoted the tradition of jolly ol’ Saint Nicholas — perhaps the most ubiquitous Christmas custom we uphold today.

To learn more about the long-standing contributions of the literary icon, subscribe to Fox Nation today to stream the ‘Washington Irving: The Father of Halloween and Christmas.’

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