“Christmas”: Crayon regrets that many of the old holiday customs he read about as a child are falling into desuetude in England. He especially cherishes those of Christmas for their combination of sacredness and merriment, and for their enrichment of family gatherings. He explains that modern life is not as suited to the old ceremonies and customs of feudal society, so some of his favorite traditions are no longer practiced. He admits, however, that Christmas is still a fun and exciting period in England. It is the season of hospitality and of charity, a time of rekindling relationships. Even for Crayon, who has no close friends or relatives in England at this point, this is a happy and cheerful time.
“The Stage Coach”: On one Christmas Eve, Crayon spent the day riding in a coach in Yorkshire. It seemed that everyone else in the coach was heading to a relation’s or to a friend’s for Christmas dinner. Three young boys in the coach were going home from school for the holidays. They were under the care of the coachman, whom Crayon describes in detail as the perfect specimen of every English coachman. Such men are all well regarded along the roads they travel.
In every village they go through, it seems to Crayon that everyone is in better spirits than usual thanks to the holiday season. Crayon arrives at the village in which he had decided to spend the night, and he goes to the local inn. Soon after his arrival, a post-chaise pulls up, and Crayon’s friend Frank Bracebridge steps out. Frank was a former traveling companion of Crayon’s, and they are quite happy to see each other. Frank invites Crayon to join him at his father’s house a few miles away for Christmas, and Crayon quickly accepts. The following stories describe the subsequent events.
“Christmas Eve”: As they ride to Frank’s father’s house, Frank explains that his father is a true old-fashioned country gentleman who maintains many of the old rural traditions. Because he lives in quite an isolated spot and is from the oldest family in the neighborhood, he is well-respected and is allowed his eccentricities. He is even called “The Squire” throughout the neighborhood.
As they approach the house they hear laughter and music coming from the servants’ hall, where the Squire encourages revelry, provided it conforms to ancient tradition. They join all of the guests assembled in the Squire’s large, old-fashioned hall. They welcome Crayon as if he is one of the family, and supper is served shortly after he and Frank arrive.
The good humor of the gathering is greatly increased by Master Simon, who is the wit of the family. He is a bachelor with a small independent income, which he manages well. He would spend most of his time visiting his various relations, but recently he has settled into staying mostly with the Squire. Everybody dances for awhile, and then the party breaks up for the night. Crayon goes to his room. As he is about to fall asleep, he hears distant music, which he decides is from carolers in a neighboring village.
“Christmas Day”: Crayon wakes on Christmas morning to some young children caroling in the hallway but, bashful, they scamper away when he opens the door. A servant invites him to family prayers in the small private chapel in the house. The family is already assembled when he arrives. They have a nice service followed by a Christmas carol.
Breakfast, like everything else, is very old-fashioned, although the Squire includes some more modern fare like toast, made available for his less hardy guests. After breakfast Crayon goes for a walk around the property with Frank and Master Simon. They then go to the village church for further Christmas services, where they meet the rest of the family.
The choir performs rather abominably, particularly on a song that Master Simon had arranged. This leaves him quite distressed. The parson’s sermon is, in keeping with everything around the Squire, rather outdated. After church everyone gathers merrily outside, and the Squire is kind to all, inviting the poor to come to his house to take something for their Christmas meal.
A group comes by with a special song and dance from long, long ago. After their performance the Squire invites them in to eat and drink with him and his other guests.
“The Christmas Dinner”: Dinner is served in the great hall, where the Squire always serves his Christmas banquet, and it is signaled by the old-fashioned custom of thwacking a rolling pin against a dresser. A large fire blazes, and the hall has been decorated festively for the occasion. Before the feast begins, there is a long grace, music, and caroling, and a pig’s head is brought in. Many of the dishes are decorated to follow ancient custom or at least to closely approximate it—for example, there is a pheasant pie rather than a peacock pie, but it is decorated with peacock feathers.
All of the relatives at the feast readily enter into the full spirit of the Squire’s whims and eccentricities, and even the servants exhibit profound gravity while performing their assigned, somewhat odd, duties. All of this pleases Crayon to see. The wassail bowl is brought out to great cheer—it is a mixture that the Squire makes himself, believing it too complicated for any servant.
The conversation during dinner is mostly about family topics, to which Crayon is a stranger, and there is also lots of teasing of Master Simon about a certain widow he is said to be flirting with. The Squire’s joy is contagious throughout the meal, and all are happy. When the ladies retire, the conversation becomes a little more bawdy but still in good fun. The Squire tells several stories of pranks he played while at Oxford. As the wassail bowl empties, the crowd gets merrier and louder.
The dinner table is removed and the hall given to the children for their games. In the drawing room, Crayon finds the older guests gathered around the parson, who is telling stories of the popular superstitions and legends of the surrounding country. The effigy of the crusader in the Squire’s house, for example, has always been viewed with superstition by the peasantry. The crusader more generally seems to Crayon to be the favorite hero of the area’s ghost stories.
The discussion is broken up by Master Simon and the youth, who have decided to have a Christmas masque. They have decked themselves out in some of the ancient clothes of the family. The Squire and Crayon both take great pleasure in this spectacle.
The “Christmas” plot of The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon is largely involved in the question of traditions passing or surviving, embodied primarily in the figure of the Squire. Throughout the book we see that Crayon has conservative tendencies, preferring the more old-fashioned, rural areas of England to the modernity of London, hoping to find old customs still in existence. At the Squire’s he has come to the right place.
In the Squire, however, we see this conservatism of tradition taken to the extreme. He maintains every old custom that he can, and because of his family’s long standing in his neighborhood, he is able to imbue this preference on those around him. He thus creates a world somewhat removed from the rest of England in time and custom.
This section also emphasizes the power of nobility in England. The Squire does not just go the old ways himself, but he does his best to have those around him do so as well, and this is possible because of his class, specifically his wealth. Even his servants, not only in their serving him but in their own celebrations, are compelled to play old-fashioned games and celebrate in an outdated style.
The Squire’s relationship with the poorer people in his neighborhood also embodies the old-fashioned way of life in England. They are somewhat compelled to live in a way that pleases him, too, but he also feels personally responsible for them to a certain extent, and he is generous to them. Even more old-fashioned, he condescendingly expresses the idea that they would all be happier and better off if they did not learn to read; to him, it seems best to keep them happy and busy with games and celebrations.
The final paragraph of the “Christmas” section moves away from this theme, with Crayon defending his own writing to the reader. He imagines a reader questioning what one can learn from this story, so he again presents his argument that he believes that he has nothing to teach-- if he can cause any pleasure in his storytelling, then he is more than content. Indeed, this section is more about the joys of the season, engineered and expertly organized in the old ways, but not so rigid that the party cannot be surprised by children in costume. Crayon suggests that modern ways of enjoying the season, while not substantially void of joy and meaning, have lost a lot of the joy and meaning that the Squire encourages through active involvement in heartwarming traditions.