In 1819, the popular American writer Washington Irving wrote a series of five essays published in a book called The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.

The essays describe a wealthy British landowner who invites his farm workers into his home to celebrate Christmas. The landowner recreates a traditional Christmas as it would have been celebrated in the distant past. Irving praised this looking back to ancient traditions. He liked the idea of different levels of society coming together to enjoy a festive and peaceful holiday. Washington Irving seemed to express concern about the lack of such unifying Christmas traditions in modern America.

Immigrants shape Christmas traditions

Penne Restad wrote a book Christmas in America: A History. It shows how Americans began to slowly shape Christmas into a unifying national holiday during the first half of the 19th century. She describes how Christmas had different meanings for Americans who came from different cultural and religious backgrounds. Many immigrants brought Christmas traditions from their own countries.

Religion played a big role in how an American might celebrate the holiday. Calvinist Christians banned the celebration of Christmas. But groups such as Episcopalians and Moravians honored the day with religious services and seasonal decorations.

Christmas became an important time for families to celebrate at home. More and more Christian Americans also began to follow the European traditions of Christmas trees and giving gifts. Christians believed that the tree represented Jesus and was also a sign of new beginnings. German immigrants brought their tradition of putting lights, sweets and toys on the branches of evergreen trees placed in their homes.

This tradition of setting up a Christmas tree soon spread to many American homes. So did the practice of giving people presents. As these traditions increased in popularity, the modern trade and business linked to Christmas also grew.

Christmas as a holiday

Americans already knew old Christmas songs that came from England and other areas of Europe. But many new American Christmas songs started to become popular. For example, in eighteen forty-nine, a religious leader from Massachusetts wrote the words to It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.The song Jingle Bells appeared seven years later. And, a year later, a religious leader in Williamsport, Pennsylvania wrote the song We Three Kings of Orient Are.

And of course, no discussion of Christmas would be complete without talking about of one of the holiday’s most famous representations, Santa Claus.

This character is based on the story of Saint Nicholas, a Christian holy person believed to have lived in the third century. Saint Nicholas became known as a protector of children. Different cultures have given him different names. These include Sinterklaas, Kris Kringle and Father Christmas. But for most Americans his most popular name would become Santa Claus.


Exercise 1


Read the following vocabulary with your teacher.


society (n.) - people in general thought of as living together in organized communities with shared laws, traditions, and values​


festive (adj.) -cheerful and exciting: suited to a celebration or holiday​


unifying (v.) - to cause (people or things) to be joined or brought together​


decoration (n.) - something that is added to something else to make it more attractive​


practice (n.) - something that is done often or regularly​



Exercise 2


Answer these questions about the article.


  1. When did Washington Irving wrote his book?
  2. What is the book about?
  3. How immigrants shaped Christmas?
  4. What is the story about Santa Claus?



Exercise 3

Make a sentence.

Make sentences using these words.


society, festive, decoration, practice


Exercise 4


Have a discussion on following questions.


  1. Do you celebrate christmas?
  2. How you celebrate christmas in your country?
  3. What are the traditions about celebrating New Year in your country?
  4. Do you buy gifts for friends and family for new year / christmas?


This lesson is based on a news article originally published by learningenglish.voanews.