TODAY   |  December 25, 2013

How Washington Irving’s classics influenced writers

NBC’s Michelle Kosinski retraces the steps of American writer Washington Irving, author of the classic holiday book “Old Christmas” as well as “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” during his holiday travels. His tales became an inspiration for many other great authors, such as Charles Dickens. 

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> now to another house that is definitely steeped in holiday tradition this one in england it its history captured by one of the great american writers . nbc's michelle kosinski stepped back in time for a visit.

>> reporter: like climbing into one of those christmas cards that sends your mind back through time --

>> oh, driver?

>> yes, mum?

>> reporter: this was the idyllic country side ramble of one washington irving , an american writer , who, at the dawn of the 1800s , longed to hold onto what this holiday should be. in his book, "old christmas," he lamented even back then, the good old times so fast passing, i'm apt to think the world was more homebred, social and joyous than at present. are we there yet?

>> just another one day and 20 thundershowers go, mum.

>> reporter: after an arduous, freezing carriage ride, his inspiration began here. hole low. where irving arrived one christmas eve . oh, my gosh.

>> welcome to the great hall of astin hall.

>> reporter: would have been positively glowing with candlelight. some people would be dancing and sing and drinking you?

>> yeah, ex-actly. it would have been crowded with people, as he describes in the book and there were people playing card , some coon versing around the fire.

>> reporter: the whole house, indeed, seemed abandoned to merriment, literally loaded with good cheer. people just seemed to let loose back then, radioity?

>> exactly. they played all sorts of games that he describes, like hoodman's bluff. traditional cust forms that he really tried to keep alive.

>> reporter: irving , from manhattan who also wrote "the legend of sleepy hollow " and " rip van winkle " so impressed a mr. charles dingens with his adoration of a proper christmastime, it inspired his "a christmas carol ."

>> god bless us, everyone!

>> reporter: shaping our christmases, even today. irving 's holiday would have been full of joyful dancing, the twerking of its time. and so you could actually get to know somebody this way?

>> would you, indeed.

>> reporter: and hospitality, grand homes like this would open their doors to the poor and everyone. wow, the stairs are so worn, you just picture all of the feet that happily went up and down. and what a sensation to sit and read in the very room where it happened, a sketch of a young woman , where she sat, right here, 200 years ago. many old traditions we have kept, holly i mistletoe, the ul log, and maybe most happily -- the feast.

>> that there would have been a huge, ceremonious procession with all the food coming out.

>> reporter: for most, long forgotten with the pig's head and peacock pie.

>> reporter: after a merry dinner back then there would be the even merrier passing around the spiced wine. but irving found in all his travels, searching for that perfect krims mass, the spirit of it is what has it has always been about. the season for kind ling not nearly the fire of hospitality in the hall, but the genial flame of charity in the heart. michelle kosinski , nbc news, birmingham, england.

>> merry christmas .

>> fun.

>> that's how you party like